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Michael Platt (left) and Peter Sterling (right) sought to explore the causes for large disparities between the number of "deaths of despair" in the U.S compared to other wealthy nations.

Two Penn researchers found that alcohol and drug-related deaths in the United States are rising at a more rapid rate compared to other wealthy nations.

Professors Michael Platt and Peter Sterling conducted a study to explore why "deaths of despair" have sharply increased in the U.S., while peer nations have experienced considerably smaller increases — or even decreases — in alcohol and drug-related deaths.

Platt and Sterling decided to research the reasons for the rise in alcohol and drug-related deaths after the National Academy of Sciences released a report in March 2021 that compared deaths of despair in the U.S. to the situations in 16 other wealthy nations — including Canada, Australia, Japan, and Western European countries. The 476-page document concluded that deaths of despair are an epidemic in the U.S., Penn Today reported.

Platt and Sterling aimed to research why there was such a considerable discrepancy between deaths of despair in the U.S. compared to other countries.

According to Platt, attaining a dopamine pulse has become more difficult in modern life, and the dopamine pulses associated with the consumption of drugs and alcohol can lead to excessive usage.

“One factor that may be contributing to this [increase in alcohol and drug consumption among college students] is the stress and anxiety students have to deal with,” Platt said.

The research concluded that the U.S would be able to solve the health crises of rising drug and alcohol-related deaths if it adopted practices such as income redistribution, universal child care, more affordable college, affordable health care, built-in paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, and vacation time. These practices have been implemented by the 16 other wealthy nations included in the study.

Platt and Sterling's research arrives in the context of a reported increase in drug and alcohol usage among college students in recent years. According to recent statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 1,519 college students ages 18 to 24 die each year due to unintentional, alcohol-related injuries.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the pandemic may have contributed to a rise in deadly drug overdoses.

“It’s going to take courage for people to stop drinking and using drugs as a way of addressing this problem,” Platt said.