COVID-19 took the world by storm. Who figured we would spend the next 2 and a half years at home with never-ending restrictions and protocols?
Unsurprisingly, the consumption of alcohol during the lockdown period increased. Everyone who had plans for their future had to rethink them. People’s visions and dreams had to take a backseat while the world as a whole went into survival mode with the added distress of watching the death rate go up day by day.
Watching loved ones either lose their battle to COVID-19 or barely survive it has altered our entire reality as we know it. But there’s more to it than that, for many, COVID-19 was a time of extreme isolation, anxiety and loneliness.
Should we be concerned about drinking post-COVID-19?
There are quite a few reasons why we should be concerned about an increase in alcohol consumption post-COVID-19. Despite the decrease in overall alcohol sales as a result of the closure of on-trade retailers (pubs, clubs, and bars), there has been a marked rise in sales from off-trade retailers such as supermarkets.
Firstly, it is an indicator of an increase in mental distress levels as a whole in the population. Mental and emotional distress is one of the leading causes of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorders.
According to studies, despite a rise in alcohol sales post-pandemic, fewer and fewer people have been reporting to hospitals and rehabilitation centres with alcohol-related complaints. A big reason for this is that people feel responsible to reduce the patient load from the already overworked healthcare staff.
Another reason for concern is the rise in the accelerated numbers of cases of alcohol-related liver disease and acute alcohol-induced liver failure.
Despite the initial decrease in alcohol-related hospital admissions, a spike was seen from February 2021 to September 2021 which showed a rise in alcohol-related admissions in the hospitals. Most of these were due to behavioural and mental disorders related to alcohol consumption and the rest were related to alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related liver disease.
What is causing the rise in alcohol-related deaths?
According to the Office of National Statistics, there has been a 21% rise in alcohol-related deaths since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. There are over 200 diseases related to alcohol consumption that affect the human body.
The most prominent of these include life-threatening health conditions known as alcoholic liver disease, cancer, alcohol-induced liver cirrhosis, and many heart diseases.
People who showed the most significant increase in their alcohol consumption levels mostly included previous heavy drinkers and avid party-goers.
The mental, emotional, and financial stresses brought on by the pandemic have led people to drink at home and lose track of how much they drink. This is especially worrisome both for people who live alone and those who have financial and child-raising responsibilities.
Increased alcohol consumption leads to the marked risk of many diseases such as cardiomyopathies, liver damage, and cancer even in previously young and healthy patients. Alcohol poisoning due to overdose left untreated can also cause death.
What other factors could play into the rise in alcohol abuse?
Many factors have contributed to the rise in alcohol abuse. Due to the sudden lifestyle change for people worldwide, people have had to rapidly adapt to the new remote office setting.
What seemed like a convenient setting at first (work from home with lack of constant supervision, sounds relaxing doesn’t it?) turned out to be an added stressor as the removal of a proper professional environment and confinement to homes led to a decline in productivity levels. In addition to this, a lot of people lost their jobs.
Some, like doctors and healthcare workers, had to work increasingly long hours in a more stressful environment than before. The families of healthcare workers had to cope with the distress of sending their loved ones to a hazardous workplace and didn’t see them for days.
In addition to stress and feelings of isolation, increased alcohol availability and boredom also contributed to a rise in alcohol abuse.
Almost 60% of the people in the UK have reported having increased their consumption of alcohol since the beginning of the pandemic. The most dramatic increase has been noted in people who were already regular or heavy drinkers.