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YU News

Alcohol-Related Deaths Spike During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Clinical Associate Professor Tim Conley, Ph.D., LCSW
Certified Addiction Specialist

My brother could use a little mercy now
He’s a stranger to freedom, he's shackled to his fear and his doubt
The pain that he lives in, it’s almost more than living will allow
I love my brother, he could use some mercy now. (Mary Gauthier)

COVID is not exactly in our back pages at this point, but many epidemiological studies of its impact on public health are starting to emerge.

For example, we know that opioid-related fatalities, largely driven by Fentanyl, reached over 100,000 in a 12-month period: it’s an epidemic within a pandemic.

But did you know that alcohol-related deaths have also risen dramatically? A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association “...examined mortality data to assess whether alcohol-related deaths increased during the pandemic.” They did.  Click here for the full synopsis.

In fact, the number of deaths involving alcohol in the U.S. increased dramatically and significantly between 2019 and 2020 from 78, 927 to 99, 017, a relative change of 25.5%.  The increase in alcohol-related mortality was similar across reported gender categories but varied by age. People aged 35-44 saw an increase in alcohol related mortality of 39.7%.  Those aged 25 to 34 years experienced a mortality increase of 37%.  The data were apparently not examined for racial/ethnic differences.

With regards to opioids and alcohol in combination, the numbers are even more grim, with opioid overdose deaths involving alcohol as a contributing cause increasing 40.8%. Deaths in which alcohol contributed to overdoses specifically on synthetic opioids other than methadone (e.g., Fentanyl) increased 59.2%. For every person with addiction who dies, there are dozens with addiction still alive and still suffering. Mercy now indeed.

Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders are specific type of mental illness (See DSM-5 pages 481 to 590) and are so prevalent that a whole profession dedicated to treatment emerged in the 1970s (including specific credentials) and has worked parallel with social work and mental health counselors ever since.  Professionals capable of treating addiction and other forms of mental illness have perhaps never been needed more than now: the era of COVID.

Since April 2020, when the COVID pandemic began devastating New York City, Wurzweiler launched our Joint MSW/CASAC Credentialing Programs.  Our graduate students are able to become a Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) in addition to an MSW while in graduate school without taking any additional credits (see here).

The future of the COVID pandemic is uncertain. The future of the addiction epidemic is much more certain: it will be trouble through at least the rest of this decade as millions of people seek the evidence-based treatment that will save their lives and empower them to heal. Wurzweiler will continue to help prepare much needed professionals.

For information about any of Wurzweiler’s addiction-related programing, contact Dr. Tim Conley:

I am your addiction, love your pain eternal foe
to those distressed and crying in the night “please let me go”
in wretchedness I find you in the darkest hours of life
in anguish I will leave you begging God to take your life
crying “please death: take me in the night”... (Tim Conley)