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WI: Report: Alcohol deaths increased 25% in Wisconsin

WI: Report: Alcohol deaths increased 25% in Wisconsin

By A.J. Bayatpour
January 13, 2022

MADISON (WKOW) — A report released Thursday found alcohol-caused deaths in Wisconsin increased by 25 percent in 2020; it is the biggest one-year rise in more than 20 years.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum put together the report, which was based on death reports sorted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The data show alcohol-induced deaths increased nationally in 2020; the national increase was 25.7 percent compared to 24.5 percent in Wisconsin.

The deaths include those in a CDC category called “alcohol-induced deaths,” which primarily include alcohol poisoning as well as liver, brain, and digestive disease caused by excessive drinking.

The category does not include deaths where alcohol may have been a contributing factor, such as car crashes, suicide, violence, and falls.

The policy forum noted in a September report that alcohol sales in Wisconsin rose last year at the highest rate in 50 years. The report cited increased stress and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic as key factors in driving Wisconsinites to drink more.

The one-year surge is a dramatic jump but it’s also part of a larger trend of alcohol deaths on the rise. In 1999, the first year CDC made the data available, 6.7 out of every 100,000 Wisconsin residents died an alcohol-induced death. In 2020, the number increased to 18.5 per 100,000; during that same period, the national rate increased from 7.0 to 14.9. 

The report noted the group most affected by the increase was those between the ages of 45 and 64. Alcohol-caused deaths among that demographic increased nearly 160 percent over the last 21 years.

As far as considerations for lawmakers moving forward, the report pointed to addressing binge drinking as a general issue in Wisconsin. According to to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Wisconsin’s rate of consumption was among the top 10 states every year between 1980 and 2009.

A 2019 University of Wisconsin report found binge drinking among all age and gender groups in Wisconsin was more prevalent than the national rates. 

State government has made alcohol more accessible during the pandemic, with the legislature passing and Gov. Tony Evers signing into law a bill that allows bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to-go. The report noted increased sin taxes could end up having an outsized impact on low-income residents.

The report noted, however, with Wisconsin’s budget surplus as a historic high, another option would be investing in prevention and treatment programs for people struggling with alcoholism.