Doctors recently warned that people might be drinking heavily in the United States as a way to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two doctors have cautioned in a new report that more people in the U.S. may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with the “myriad stressors” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the article recommends a set of steps to try to mitigate this activity and better serve persons with alcohol use disorder.
It is well known that one way people deal with stressful circumstances is to drink alcohol. Research has shown, for instance, that people in the U.S. prefer to consume more alcohol after terrorist attacks.
In addition, if a person has an alcohol use disorder, alcohol is more likely to be used to deal with the stress of a traumatic event.
The present COVID-19 pandemic is a specific cause for concern in this context. The writers of the current article point out that the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are prolonged over time rather than being a single occurrence, potentially exposing individuals to chronic trauma.
In addition, the pandemic has activated different possible stressors that a person can cope with by consuming alcohol.
The pandemic has also devastated economies and social and cultural life, threatened people’s jobs, disrupted their interpersonal support systems, raised barriers to health care, and driven many people into isolation, in addition to the devastating effects on people’s health and the loss and sadness faced by many.
Researchers had noticed before the pandemic that individuals in the U.S. appeared to drink more. For females, this was particularly the case.
Latest evidence indicates that in the early stages of the pandemic, individuals in the U.S. increased their alcohol intake. This is in line with related results from studies in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Alcohol health effects
This matters since there are well-documented associations between increased intake of alcohol and adverse health effects.
Alcohol consumption can alter mood and actions, damage the heart, liver , and pancreas of a person, increase the risk of many forms of cancer, and weaken the immune system of a person, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out.
Excessive alcohol intake has also been related by studies to mental health conditions , such as anxiety and depression, which could escalate during the pandemic.
Consequently, in response to the stressors of the pandemic, it is important to encourage individuals to find alternate coping strategies. For persons suffering the effects of increased alcohol intake or people with alcohol use disorder, adequate support should also be available.
The authors of the current study give different suggestions for measures that may help decrease the dependency of people during the pandemic on alcohol. Other initiatives concentrate on improved planning of health care to assist people with opioid addiction problems.
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, “[i]ncreasing identification of harmful alcohol use in patients and intervening early are key components of addressing this problem.”
“Furthermore, awareness of the issue by policy makers could lead to changes in federal regulations and improvements in access to healthcare, as we have seen with telehealth,” she says.
The researchers propose that public health communications could raise awareness of the potential for increased drinking during the pandemic, as well as provide guidance on alternate coping mechanisms for the pandemic stressors.
They also recommend that when people contact primary care providers, primary care practitioners may provide improved screening for alcohol use disorders.
Technologies such as telehealth may also be useful for people that are separated or where the pandemic has caused a decrease in attendance for certain face-to – face care facilities, which enables clinical knowledge to move between physicians and individuals at a distance.
Finally, the writers emphasize that it is important to ensure people have access to health insurance to cover the cost of medical care. Given the number of people who rely on occupational health insurance and the large number of people who have lost their employment since the pandemic, this is especially important.
Dr. Dawn E. Sugarman, co-author, a research psychologist at the McLean Hospital Center of Excellence in Alcohol, Narcotics, and Addiction, states that:
“We hope this article will call attention to the pandemic’s effects on alcohol use and offer mitigating approaches to this under-recognized public health concern.”