Study cites pandemic’s negative ripple effect on alcohol consumption | Local News

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The COVID-19 pandemic may have another significant public-health ripple effect in terms of increased alcoholic consumption, according to a Triangle-based nonprofit research institute.

A study published recently in the journal Addiction by RTI International estimates that a one-year increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic will have a significant impact on health outcomes and hospitalization costs.

The researchers’ estimates were calculated based on about 25.9 million current drinkers with lifetime alcohol-use disorder in the U.S. The results were determined based on the simulation cases of 10,000 individuals.

The researchers determined that the one-year increase in consumption for those individuals will result in the loss of 332,000 quality-adjusted life-years over the next five years.

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They also estimated an additional 295,000 alcohol-related hospitalizations from 28 alcohol-related conditions over the same time period. The additional hospitalizations will add $5.4 billion in hospitalization costs, with cirrhosis of the liver accounting for $3 billion.

“Alcohol consumption accounts for a significant health and economic burden in the U.S.,” said Carolina Barbosa, health economist at RTI and lead author of the study. “Unfortunately, the increases in consumption observed during the COVID-19 pandemic will only add to this burden.”

Barbosa said the study’s findings “highlight the importance of monitoring alcohol consumption and related harms, with special attention to minority groups, who have been disproportionately impacted by these trends.”

Researchers based their study on individual-level simulation model for individuals with a history of alcohol use disorder.

The simulations were: one scenario of no changes in consumption; the pandemic-driven increases in consumption persist for one year; and a final scenario in which the increases in consumption persist for five years.

Health and cost impacts were more pronounced for age groups of those 51 and older, women, and non-Hispanic Black individuals.

The scenario simulating a five-year sustained increase in consumption caused even larger impacts.

Laura Veach, a professor of trauma surgery at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said the RTI study “provides a clear picture of stark projected health costs when so many Americans reach far more often for another drink to escape the bitter distress in this COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Sales of alcohol were dramatically up as the lockdown dragged on. Many have likely seen more home delivery services with your favorite cocktail arriving at your door, recipes for ‘quarantinis’ or experiencing virtual happy hours from the safety of your couch.”

Veach said an important takeaway from the study is that it provides “an important tool to improve this pandemic-related alarm as Barbosa and her co-authors emphasize the important opportunities for early intervention as we better understand the costs of risky drinking.”

Veach said current guidelines advise no more than one standard drink for women or two standard drinks for men per day.

For pregnant or nursing women, individuals with an alcohol use disorder or other use disorder, those under age 21, or those with medical conditions or medications where alcohol is contraindicated, no amount of alcohol is advised.

Danielle Harper, a therapist at Novant Health Psychiatry, said that while she has “not seen an increase in alcohol consumption, however, I have noticed since working in emergency department there has been frequent assessments that need to be completed for those seeking alcohol detox.”

“Some are those who have been sober for years, but due to job loss, lack of socialization, and inability to meet in person for their AA meetings, have returned to alcohol consumption.”

Harper cautioned that “continuous alcohol consumption increases depression and anxiety, along with increase in suicidal thoughts that may come with depression.”

“When symptoms of depression and anxiety go unchecked, it can become chronic, which can potentially have an impact on all domains of life — socially, professionally and interpersonally.

“Typically a substance use, in this case alcohol use, can lead to social isolation and possible loss of support from loved ones and friends. This can have an impact on someone’s mental health in the long run.”

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