According to a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the number of alcohol-induced deaths in Wisconsin rose by 25% in 2020 compared to 2019, a difference of 212 lives lost. That's the largest one-year increase ever recorded in the state, since the CDC started tracking the data in 1999.
Wisconsin already outpaces nationwide binge drinking averages across all age and gender demographics, according to a 2019 report from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
As recent as the 1990s, the state was on trend with national averages for binge-drinking and alcohol-induced deaths. However, since the turn of the century, a dangerous trend has been on the rise.
"Something has happened within the last two decades, especially the last decade that has caused our rate of alcohol-induced deaths to really exceed the national rate," Mark Sommerhauser, a co-author of the Wisconsin Policy Forum's report.
The report focused on alcohol-induced deaths that are defined as biological causes directly attributed to excess drinking, like alcohol poisoning, instead of alcohol-related deaths such as motor vehicle accidents from drunk driving. Death certificates tally a 25% increase (212 more deaths) from 2019 to 2020, illustrating a rise during the pandemic.
"The overwhelming majority, right around 90%, of these alcohol-induced deaths are from just two causes, which is alcoholic liver disease and then what's termed as mental and behavioral disorders due to alcohol use," co-author Ari Brown said. "These are things that would compound over time."
The latest data shows that middle-aged Wisconsinites are the most impacted by this trend. Per 100,00 residents aged 45-64, alcohol-induced deaths jumped from 15.9 to 41.3 from 1999 to 2020. Comparatively, the alcohol-induced death rate per 100,000 residents aged 25-44 only jumped from 4.5 to 9.6 in that time. While still doubling, it pales in comparison to the lives lost at middle age due to years of excess drinking.
Deborah Kraemer, a certified substance abuse counselor with Ascension St. Elizabeth, predicted this outcome after two years of isolation through an ongoing mental health crisis in America.
"I think we need more awareness of mental health and substance abuse out there," Kraemer said. "It seems like there's still such a stigma against it that people are afraid to come forward."
William W. serves as the accessiblity chair for AA District 1 and says that regular meetings paired with consistent outreach to his support network has helped keep him sober for more than four years.
"I think everyone has the support, they just aren't willing to accept it," he said. "Go to a funeral and you see how many people are there for support when someone passes away, but that person doesn't understand that all those people are going to be there for them."