Over the last two years, thewitnessed a steep increase in use among adults. According to research from the Journal of the Medical Association, those aged 30 and over experienced a 14% increase, with women seeing the steepest rise in heavy — a whopping 41% during the pandemic. The research also highlighted the fact that overdose and relapse rates rose among those who had pre-existing addictive conditions.
There is a multitude of factors that contributed to the increase inconsumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anxiety and depression rose dramatically among the general population, and consumption often increases for those who use it as a way to cope. “Stress and boredom likely were main drivers for a substantial increase in intake,” explains Dr. Jagpreet Chhatwal, associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Technology Assessment and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
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Measures that were designed to help businesses stay afloat during the pandemic may have also affectedhabits. According to Chhatwal, “cocktails-to-go laws that allowed customers to pick up mixed cocktails at local bars and direct-to-consumer laws that allowed stores to deliver directly to homes” point to a potential link between access and consumption.
Regardless of the reason, these numbers are going to translate to significant morbidity and mortality rates forin the future. According to new a study by researchers at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital published in Hepatology, due to the pandemic uptick in use, there will be close to 20,000 cases of liver failure, 1,000 cases of liver cancer and 8,000 deaths over the next two decades.
Addressing this pressing issue will be complicated in a country that has long glamorized the use ofamong its population. From Super Bowl advertisements to film and music references, has long been associated with celebration, letting loose and having a good time. Consuming , even excessively, is normalized to the point that it is integrated into daily life on a regular basis: after-work happy hours, relaxing at home, birthdays, weddings, sporting events, etc. has become so fused into the fabric of society that in 2019, the industry was already worth over $250 billion.
Putting a positive spin onis dangerous because it creates the mirage that there are no negative consequences on a person’s physical or mental health, which is both untrue and potentially harmful. “Not everyone is aware of the safe limits or realizes when to stop,” says Chhatwal. Excessive can cause a myriad of health problems including high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, increase the risk for cancer, liver and GI problems, a weakened immune system, depression and anxiety as well as socialization issues and job loss.
In a country where more than 14 millionadults 18 years and older had a clinical alcohol use disorder, according to statistics from National Institute for Abuse and , the challenge will be raising awareness, confronting a booming business model and reevaluating new laws that made more accessible during the pandemic.
In Chhatwal’s opinion, “One of the foremost steps is to create awareness about the risk of an increase inconsumption, especially high-risk among women and minority populations who are more vulnerable.” He also stressed the importance of enlisting primary care providers to do more extensive screening for consumption patterns. There is also an obligation to take a hard look at new laws: “We need to evaluate the effect of cocktail-to-go and direct-to-consumer laws — if such laws contribute to increased then there is a need to make policy-level changes.”
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