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Many people turned to alcohol during COVID. That is proving deadly in Ohio and elsewhere

Close-up of the hands of a young man who pours alcohol from a decanter into a glass, on a dark isolated background.
Baranova Valentina
/
iStockphoto
Possible contributing factors of a 25% increase between 2019-2020 and beyond include: coping with pandemic-related stressors, shifting alcohol policies and disrupted treatment access.

From 2019 to 2020, alcohol induced deaths rose 25% nationally and 22% in Ohio.

The number of Ohioans dying from alcohol continues to increase, and the pandemic is getting much of the blame. Statistics from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) show a 22.1% increase from 2019-2020. The 2021 numbers are still preliminary, but it appears the upward trend is continuing.

Heather Cokl oversees addiction services in Clermont County for Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services. She says the statistics aren’t surprising given the number-one trigger for those struggling with addiction is isolation.

“We had folks in long-term recovery that experienced relapse, as in 2020 and 2021,” she says. “Just forced isolation and the usual resources they were using for their recovery were either suspended, turned off; or some things did try to go remote.”


Number of Alcohol-Induced Deaths Among Ohioans 16 Years and Older by Sex, 2007-2021*

 

Female

Male

Unknown

Total

2007

356

1,350

0

1,706

2008

435

1,534

0

1,969

2009

392

1,490

0

1,882

2010

432

1,560

0

1,992

2011

437

1,568

14

2,019

2012

462

1,604

7

2,073

2013

473

1,728

9

2,210

2014

500

1,861

4

2,365

2015

565

1,894

0

2,459

2016

687

2,053

0

2,740

2017

719

2,280

0

2,999

2018

679

2,103

0

2,782

2019

727

2,309

0

3,036

2020

899

2,809

0

3,708

2021*

963

3,052

0

4,015

Source: Ohio Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics

Analysis: ODH Violence and Injury Epidemiology and Surveillance Section.

*2021 data is preliminary.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (MHAS) points to increased pandemic-related stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms and disorders.

Further proof of the problem is record sales of liquor as reported by the Ohio Department of Commerce. MHAS says more alcohol in the community correlates to more alcohol consumption and related problems.

A 25% increase in alcohol-induced deaths nationally

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published national alcohol-related death research in its May 3, 2022 edition.

The research looked at studies on drinking to cope with stress, transplants for alcohol-associated liver disease and emergency department visits for alcohol withdrawal.

According to the article, “The number and rate of alcohol-related deaths increased approximately 25 percent between 2019 and 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates increased prior to the pandemic, but less rapidly (2 percent mean annual percent change between 1999 and 2017). The rate increase for alcohol-related deaths in 2020 outpaced the increase in all-cause mortality, which was 16.6 percent.”

The biggest increase was seen in ages 55-64.

The Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services’ Cokl says the solution in each community is different and all the pieces must fit together for the ultimate recovery, like having housing and transportation.

“Transportation is always at the top, housing is a huge barrier for lots of folks in Clermont County. And then our folks who are in some sort of recovery process, sometimes have criminal backgrounds and other things that might become barriers for them,” she says.

MHAS has invested $14.5 million to address alcohol use disorder in Ohio. The Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services has gotten some of that money.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.