More Americans are drinking heavily amid pandemic-related stress, survey finds
A ‘heavy drinking day’ was defined as four or more drinks containing alcohol for women and five or more for men.
More than 18 months into the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly one in five Americans reports consuming an unhealthy amount of alcohol, a survey suggests.
About 17% of respondents reported “heavy drinking” in the most recent 30 days, according to the survey by The Harris Poll commissioned by Alkermes, an Ireland biopharmaceutical company.
The survey was conducted online from March 30 to April 7 among 6,006 U.S. adults 21 and older.
Of those, 1,003 adults reported “heavy drinking.”
That was defined as having had two heavy drinking days in a week at least twice in the previous 30 days. A “heavy drinking day” was defined as four or more drinks containing alcohol for women and five or more drinks containing alcohol for men.
Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, chief medical officer for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, called the findings “not surprising.” Almost 90% of people with substance use disorder aren’t in treatment, and alcohol and drug use typically worsen with isolation, Gandotra said.
Several studies have suggested Americans are buying more alcohol and drinking more frequently during the coronavirus pandemic.
A study by the RAND Corp. last fall found the frequency of alcohol consumption in the United States rose 14%. Women increased heavy drinking days by 41%, according to the study.
Another study, by researchers at the University of Arizona, found “dramatic increases in harmful alcohol consumption” over the first six months of the pandemic. Greater alcohol consumption was most associated with job loss due to COVID-19, according to the study.
“It seems clear that some people are drinking more, while others are drinking less,” said Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “In many studies, increases in consumption during the pandemic were linked to increases in stress.”
According to the Harris Poll, many of those who reported heavy drinking said that, over the previous 12 months, they experienced negative mental, physical and psychosocial impacts. Three in 10 said they continued to drink despite it making them feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem. About one in four reported continuing to drink after experiencing a memory blackout. More than one in five experienced withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol were wearing off. And 23% gave up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to them in order to drink.
The survey found more than half of respondents who reported heavy drinking were aware of treatment options for alcohol dependence, such as support groups and residential rehabilitation treatment options. But 87% weren’t undergoing treatment at the time of the survey.
More than half said they were either “very” or “somewhat” motivated to seek treatment for their drinking. Friends and family can play a role in influencing loved ones who drink heavily to seek help, the survey found.
Over half of survey respondents who reported heavy drinking said someone had expressed concern to them about their drinking. Almost half of this group who had sought treatment said that a reason they did so was because their family had expressed concern about their drinking.
“You can seek help anonymously or with friends and family who may also be affected by your drinking,” Gandotra said. “Treatment is available and effective. You do not have to struggle alone.”
The institute on alcohol abuse’s guidelines advise limiting alcohol consumption to no more than three to four drinks per “occasion.” Men should have no more than 14 standard drinks a week, women no more than seven.
U.S. dietary guidelines recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two for men. A standard “drink” serving is a 12-ounce beer or hard seltzer with 5% alcohol, a five-ounce glass of wine with 12% alcohol, or a 1.5-ounce shot of 40% alcohol — 80 proof liquor.
People who misuse alcohol have a greater risk of liver disease, heart disease, depression, stroke and stomach bleeding, as well as multiple cancers, according to the institute on alcohol abuse . Pregnant women, people taking medications and those recovering from alcohol use disorder should not be drinking alcohol
The institute on alcohol abuse and World Health Organization have said drinking too much alcohol may weaken the body’s immune response to COVID.
“Alcohol misuse both activates the immune system, causing inflammation, and interferes with the body’s immune response to viral and bacterial infections,” Koob has written. “Ultimately, impaired immune system function and an increased susceptibility to respiratory illness could contribute to more severe COVID-19 and greater risk of mortality.”
Read more at usatoday.com