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Drinking-related deaths among women spiked during COVID pandemic, report says

Drinking related deaths spiked nationwide during the pandemic, particularly among women. That’s according to a report from federal health officials.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that deaths tied to drinking spiked about 30% in 2020 and 2021.

Historically, men have accounted for most of those deaths and that remains the case.

But the death-rate among women jumped 35%, outpacing the increase among men by almost 10 points.

In Montana, deaths in 2020 from drinking among women spiked even more at about 50%, according to state data. That is more than double the increase among men.

Aaron Anciaux is a Missoula-based licensed addiction counselor. He said the gap between men and women when it comes to drinking-related deaths has been narrowing for years.

“COVID was just the additional ingredient that we’ve needed for a bigger storm,” Anciaux said.

Margie Skeer with Tufts University School of Medicine agrees. She said women experienced higher rates of stress during the pandemic for a number of reasons. That could be why women drank more.

“We saw increases in caregiving, employment loss and mental health problems increased with depression and anxiety,” Skeer said.

Experts also note that women don’t metabolize alcohol in the same way men do, meaning they can be more susceptible to dying from drinking too much. Women also tend to experience alcohol related disease earlier in life and drinking more during the pandemic could have increased that trend.

Since the end of the pandemic, drinking-related deaths are on the decline, but the rate is coming down much more slowly for women compared to men.

Skeer said it’s a sign that some of the reasons women drank more during the pandemic aren’t abating the same way they are for men.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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