In a new viewpoint article, two doctors have warned that more people in the U.S. may be turning to alcohol as a way of coping with the â€œmyriad stressorsâ€ of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further, the pandemic has caused various potential stressors that a person may cope with by drinking alcohol.
As well as the catastrophic effect on peopleâ€™s health and the loss and grief experienced by many, the pandemic has also disrupted economies and social and cultural life, threatening peopleâ€™s jobs, disrupting their interpersonal support structures, increasing barriers to health care, and forcing many people into isolation.
Before the pandemic, researchers had noted that people in the U.S. were tending to drink more. This was particularly the case for females.
Recent research suggests that people in the U.S. increased their alcohol consumption in the early phase of the pandemic. This is in line with similar findings from studies in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Alcohol health effects
This matters because well-documented links exist between increased alcohol consumption and adverse health outcomes.
As the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism point out, alcohol consumption can change mood and behavior, damage a personâ€™s heart, liver, and pancreas, increase the risk of several types of cancer, and weaken a personâ€™s immune system.
Research has also linked excessive alcohol consumption to mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, which may worsen during the pandemic.
Consequently, it is important to encourage people to find alternative coping strategies in response to the stressors of the pandemic. Effective support should also be available for people experiencing the effects of increased alcohol consumption or people with alcohol use disorder.
According to Dr. Shelly F. Greenfield, director of the Alcohol, Drug, and Addiction Clinical and Health Services Research Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, â€œ[i]ncreasing identification of harmful alcohol use in patients and intervening early are key components of addressing this problem.â€
â€œIn addition, recognition of the problem from policymakers could lead to changes in federal regulations â€” such as we have seen with telehealth â€” and improvements in access to healthcare,â€ she notes.
They also suggest that primary care practitioners should offer increased screening for alcohol use disorder when people contact primary care services.
Technologies, such as telehealth â€” that enable clinical information to pass between doctors and individuals at a distance â€” may also be valuable for people who are isolating or where the pandemic has forced a reduction in the enrolment for some face-to-face clinical services.
â€œWe hope this article will call attention to the pandemicâ€™s effects on alcohol use and offer mitigating approaches to this under-recognized public health concern.â€
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