Alcohol Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic NIH COVID-19 Research

Alcohol intolerance is a condition where the body reacts negatively to the consumption of alcohol. It’s typically related to an inability to properly process or metabolize alcohol. In a March 2021 blog post, neurologist Georgia Lea discussed the potential connection between long COVID, specifically the PVFS type, and alcohol intolerance.

How concerned should we be about people drinking to deal with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Unfortunately, the pandemic also made accessing substance use disorder treatment more difficult. This research suggests that these issues are reflected in deaths related to alcohol use. Future research can focus on addressing the mental health needs of people with alcoholism or substance use disorders and people prone to it, especially during very stressful events. With regard to decreased alcohol consumption, higher social support [39], what is holistic addiction treatment workers with higher conscientious domain of personality, those from educational, health, welfare sectors and those living with families reported lower alcohol consumption [54]. A monthly cross-sectional survey in England that compared smoking and drinking practices for a year before and after lockdown found that, following lockdown, attempts to quit among smokers increased and alcohol use among high-risk drinkers reduced [55].

Will there be long-term consequences of pandemic-related alcohol misuse?

  1. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 28.8 million adults ages 18 and older had alcohol use disorder in 2021.
  2. Studies suggest an increase in alcohol, cannabis and tobacco use, screen time, behavioural addictions, higher salt and calorie intake [22–25].
  3. Another important way to reduce the treatment gap is to harness technology [57].

Among regular drinkers in France, alcohol consumption reduced during lockdown [53]. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines excessive alcohol use as binge drinking, heavy drinking, alcohol use by people under the minimum legal drinking age, and alcohol use by pregnant women. AUD is a clinical diagnosis that indicates someone’s drinking is causing distress and harm. The interconnection between alcohol dependence and depression is based on a circular etiopathogenic process, the two diseases worsening each other.

For researchers: NIAAA COVID F32, K99 extensions

In fact, it is possible that alcohol consumption may increase the chance of developing severe illness as a result of COVID-19. There are claims that drinking alcohol can help protect people from SARS-CoV-2, which is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In the 2009 study, Kelly and his colleagues described patients to more than 600 clinicians, alternating between “substance abuser” and “having a substance 8 best opioid detox and rehab centers use disorder.” Those in the latter category were viewed more sympathetically and as more worthy of treatment. By the time a person with alcohol use disorder seeks help, they’ve probably been through a couple of cycles of trying unsuccessfully to limit how much or when they’re drinking. They might decide to have just one beer at a party, but end up drinking more, blacking out and wrecking their car.

Drinking, coping, and COVID-19

They also assessed sex differences in the amount of pre- and post-pandemic onset changes in alcohol consumption, alcohol issues, and mechanism factors. When stress exceeds a certain limit, it might trigger brain inflammation, resulting in symptoms like those seen in ME/CFS, including alcohol intolerance. Ongoing research, including advanced brain scans, aims to further investigate these connections.

While research on alcohol intolerance post-COVID-19 is limited, numerous anecdotal reports suggest that alcohol intolerance could be a symptom of long COVID for some individuals. While not widely recognized as a symptom of long COVID due to limited research, alcohol intolerance has been reported by some individuals. Form a mutual safety pact with friends, an approach that may help college students when they venture out, McCarthy suggests. Settle on what level of social distancing you are comfortable with, and pre-plan ways to maintain it, he says.

Future research should follow a 28-day timeline and take an individual-centered approach to improve understanding of the pandemic’s impact on diverse groups. Negative affectivity and coping drinking reasons were the same before and after COVID-19, and the amplitude of COVID-19 onset effects decreased alcohol use disorder symptoms and causes marginally. One theory suggests that the virus causing COVID-19 acts as a severe stressor, possibly affecting a part of the brain called the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN). This could make the PVN extra sensitive to life’s stresses, causing fatigue and relapses similar to ME/CFS.

NIAAA Director, Dr. George Koob, discusses what we know about how alcohol affects our immune and stress systems, along with issues related to treatment access during the pandemic. Apart from the intensively and analyzed trends and motivations of adults’ alcohol consumption, there are several sensitive and less discussed issues, with potential long-term consequences, that would deserve more attention. If you’re ready to enter treatment and stop drinking, you’ll likely have to wait until your COVID-19 infection is no longer transmissible before you enter a detox program. Alcohol can also weaken your immune system and contribute to risk-taking behavior (like not wearing a mask) that could increase your chances of contracting the virus. “The steps we are recommending should not only help to align clinical practice with sound language guidelines, but also foster a more empathetic and supportive healthcare environment for patients,” he said.

Considering the evidence of increased alcohol consumption in women during the pandemic, the pandemic duration and the risks of unintended pregnancies, the odds of increased rates of FASD in the future are high. “Although we might soon enter a post−COVID era, new cases of FASD will persist for decades and permanently compromise the lives and life chances of those affected. FASD is both predictable and largely preventable but has been consistently ignored” [81]. In fact, it is possible that excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing COVID-19-induced illness, as this can affect the immune system.

Other interesting examples may be the decrease of alcohol consumption in college students, after the campus closure, the main explanation being that they got back home, to live with their families, with less social events and binge drinking [46,47]. In Eastern Europe, a research project implemented in Poland has shown an increase in alcohol consumption in 146%, with a higher tendency to drink more found among the subjects with previous alcohol addiction [42]. Considering the scale of its consequences and the huge stress-related burden, COVID-19 pandemic can be considered as a mass trauma, which can lead to psychological problems, health behavior changes, and addictive issues, including alcohol consumption [16,17].

However, reaching for a glass of alcohol can enhance your anxiety or make it more likely for problematic patterns of alcohol use to start or continue. For the week ending May 2, total alcohol sales in the U.S. were up by more than 32% compared to the same week one year ago. Alcohol users may not adhere to social distancing norms, increasing their risk of COVID-19. Anecdotal reports from Thailand suggest outbreaks of COVID-19 among families attending alcohol parties [88]. Further, among young adults with hazardous drinking, adherence to public policies was low and declined over a period of time during the lockdown [89].

Moderate drinking is up to one drink (about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits) per day for women and two drinks for men. High-risk drinking for women is the consumption of four or more drinks on any day or eight or more drinks per week. Binge drinking is defined as women consuming four or more drinks in about two hours, or five or more drinks for men. Compared with all other causes of death, which increased by 16%, alcohol-related deaths increased at a higher rate. Alcohol use and alcohol-related deaths increased during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. A qualitative study from India analysing 350 online newspaper articles during 1 month of lockdown reflected the lack of a comprehensive alcohol policy in India [102].

But because of that increase during the first year, researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) wanted to know whether there was a corresponding increase in alcohol-related deaths in 2020. In Iran, misinformation related to alcohol being a ‘neutralizing agent’ and consumption of illicit alcohol led to a ‘syndemic of COVID-19 and methanol poisoning’. In the early part of pandemic, there were 5000 cases of methanol poisoning and 500 deaths [100].

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