Rob Roy

Alcohol Adding to the Health Burden of COVID-19

New research from Rand and the Indiana University School of Public Health at Bloomington offers a vivid picture of two major health risks colliding. Alcohol use is growing more frequent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, it’s growing heavier. This is not what we need, because alcohol use is already the number one global health risk factor for adults 25 to 49 years of age.

Top 10 Global Health Risks, Adults 25-49

Adding Risk to Risk

As you can see above, alcohol use is already the leading health risk for adults through middle age. Lancet published these data only yesterday. They tell us that alcohol use has been on top of this list for three decades. So increased alcohol use with COVID-19 looks like a case of synergistic health risks.

Michael Pollard, Joan Tucker, and Harold Green analyzed data from Rand’s American Life Panel to find that adults are drinking more alcohol during the pandemic. They’re drinking more frequently, too. This is based on a comparison of responses from 1,540 adults in the spring of 2019 to their responses a year later, in the midst of the pandemic. They found a 14 percent overall increase in alcohol use and a 41 percent increase in heavy drinking. They also found evidence that suggested a 39 percent increase in alcohol-related problems.

A Problem That Will Persist

Long after the coronavirus is under control, the effects of this boom in alcohol consumption will stay with us. Funding for drug and alcohol dependence treatment is spotty at best. In fact, many treatment programs shut down with the onset of the pandemic. Elizabeth Marshall is from Ogdensburg, New York, where she is in recovery. She told NPR:

“I relapsed during the pandemic. I picked up that first drink and I was scared. It drove my depression, like, skyrocketed it. It didn’t make sense to me how they could shut down all of the places that are trying to help and keeping going with all the alcohol sales.”

We hear a lot from folks who sell alcohol that this pandemic is causing serious problems for them. Bars are reopening in some places because of this. Elsewhere, pubs are closing because of disease transmission. Without a doubt, this is a tricky business. Alcohol and COVID-19 is a dangerous mixture. It could be quite costly to our health for some time to come.

Click here for the study from Pollard et al and here for the latest Global Burden of Diseases Study. For Further perspective, click here and here.

Rob Roy, photograph © Tim Sackton / flickr

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October 18, 2020

4 Responses to “Alcohol Adding to the Health Burden of COVID-19”

  1. October 18, 2020 at 9:48 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Where is obesity on the list of global burdens of disease?


    • October 19, 2020 at 4:54 am, Ted said:

      Click on the embedded figure and it will open in a separate window or tab, Allen. There you can see that high body mass index is #3 on the list for this age group. Three decades ago, it was #7.

  2. October 19, 2020 at 12:21 am, Chester Draws said:

    Nielsen reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020

    Cherries being picked aplenty. That the first week of the lockdown had increased sales is hardly surprising. I stocked up too. There were also massive sales in toilet paper. But no-one is claiming that we are therefore all going to the toilet more.

    Anyway, what did people think was going to happen if the population was put under house arrest? That they’d sit there and not even do the few enjoyable things left to them? There was a surge in sex toys too.

    Perhaps the lesson is not to put people under house arrest.

    Long after the coronavirus is under control, the effects of this boom in alcohol consumption will stay with us.

    You have zero evidence for that. Zero.

    Things will quickly return to normal. I have as much evidence for my spectulation as you have for yours.

    • October 19, 2020 at 4:51 am, Ted said:

      Chester, I suggest you speak with folks who deal with the effects of major traumas in alcohol dependency programs, if you want to learn about this.