Alcohol-related illnesses in Alberta on the rise during COVID-19 pandemic

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Alberta is experiencing an increase in alcohol-related illnesses that can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say.


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Mental and behavioral disorders resulting from alcohol use, as well as alcohol-related depression and withdrawal, are among the few non-COVID causes of hospital admission that have increased in the province since March 2020, says the Calgary physician Dr. Eddy Lang.

An article co-authored by Lang that was published in the medical journal PLOS ONE in June revealed that alcohol use rose from the fifth highest cause of hospitalization in the province to the third during the first six months of the pandemic.

Alcohol-related illnesses accounted for 3.46 percent of hospital admissions between March and September 2020, up from 2.65 percent in that period the previous year.

“Considering the number of hospitalizations we have in Alberta, that’s a significant increase,” Lang said, attributing the increased rates of alcohol use to a heightened sense of pandemic anxiety.


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“There have been many lost jobs and family separation. We know that people are managing it with alcohol and cannabis. That is going to manifest itself with the people who go overboard, ”he said. “Alcohol is like gasoline on the fire of a mental illness. If you’re already depressed, you might think that alcohol will make you feel better, but it makes things worse in the long run because it contributes to suicidal thoughts. “

Increasing rates of alcohol use in Alberta are also being reflected in liver health.

Hospitalizations for alcoholic hepatitis increased by 90.5 percent in the first wave of the pandemic, according to a study to be published soon in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Research covering the period from March to September 2020 found that the increase in hospitalizations coincided with higher liquor sales, said lead author Dr. Abdel-Aziz Shaheen of the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine. .


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The higher rates of alcohol consumption were mainly due to changes in personal habits during the confinement, Shaheen said.

“People went from drinking a few times a week with friends at the bar to drinking alone at home and watching Netflix.”

And the results have been getting worse.

“In the second and third waves we noticed that people were more ill than in the first wave,” Shaheen said. “Patients wait longer to get to the hospital. They tell us: ‘We are afraid that if we come, the same (pre-COVID) treatment will not be available.’ They say they are trying to get by on their own. “

Shaheen pointed to a case in which a 75-year-old man came to the hospital with a peptic ulcer on his stomach.

“That is rare in North America. This is something we see in the textbooks of developing countries, ”Shaheen said. “He died in the ICU because he was still bleeding. I was afraid to come to the hospital for COVID. We are seeing this more now because patients don’t come to the hospital at the right time. “


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Shaheen admits that he fears the long-term impacts of increased alcohol consumption because alcohol-related hospitalization rates have remained high beyond the scope of his study, and emergency departments see patterns in the fourth wave that are similar. as of March 2020.

Shaheen said more needs to be done to support people struggling with alcohol use.

“We need to give primary care physicians the tools to help patients reduce their consumption. We are beginning to collaborate with partners in mental health. If patients are at high risk, then we need to follow up. “

Referring to Low-risk alcohol consumption guidelines from the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction, Shaheen said men should have no more than 15 standard drinks per week. Women should have no more than 10 drinks per week.

If Albertans are concerned about their drinking habits, they should first contact their primary care physician or call the Addiction Helpline operated by Alberta Health Services at 1-866-332-2322.

Alcoholics Anonymous also has a 24-hour meeting information line at 780-443-6000.



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