On her last day of consciousness, Misty Luminais Babin held onto hope. “I choose life,” the 38-year-old told her sister, husband and doctor from inside the Ochsner Medical Center ICU.
But her sister, Aimee Luminais Calamusa, knew it was a choice made too late. A former ICU nurse herself, she was trained to recognize signs of the end. Even after draining 3 liters of fluid from Babin’s abdomen, her liver — mottled and scarred by years of heavy drinking — couldn’t keep up. The fluid had started building up in her lungs and she gasped for air. Without oxygen, her other organs began to fail.
“When I left that day, I knew that would be the last time I talked to her, ever,” said Calamusa. “It was really hard to walk out that door.”
Babin died two days later, on June 14 of this year, after a long struggle with alcohol use disorder. Her family said the fight intensified in the last four or five years after a rough breakup, but may have been more stealthy and prevalent than they ever realized.
“None of us knew,” said Calamusa, who wrote a moving and honest obituary in The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate about her sister’s struggles. “She hid it very well. I think she probably has been an addict for a long time. She lost control very quickly.”
With an average of 1,591 alcohol-related deaths from 2011 to 2015, Louisiana is tied for 10th among U.S. states on a per-capita basis when it comes to people succumbing to the disease, according to a recent analysis of death certificates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Across the country, alcohol-related deaths have risen by 51% over a period covering most of the past two decades, according to a study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published earlier this year.
The most alarming increase was among women. Deaths increased by 85% from 1999 to 2017.
And amid all-time high levels of anxiety and economic uncertainty, public-health experts fear that deaths like Babin’s will spike in the coming years. New data examining how drinking habits have changed during the pandemic showed drinking overall has increased by 14% compared with a year ago. In women, the increase was 17%, according to the peer-reviewed study published Sept. 29 in JAMA Network Open by researchers from the RAND Corporation.
Binge drinking in women, defined as four drinks over two hours, increased by 41% from 2019 to 2020.
“Drinking by women is sort of overlooked,” said Michael Pollard, author of the JAMA study. “And this points out that it is a real concern. We don’t really have