Alcohol abuse sent nearly twice as many women to the hospital during pandemic, study finds

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health concerns, please call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 to connect with a trained counselor, or visit 988 Lifeline Website.


The number of women aged 40 to 64 visiting hospital due to alcohol abuse has almost doubled during the pandemic, according to a new study.

During 10 months between April 2020 and September 2021, complications of alcohol-related illnesses increased by 33% to 56% among middle-aged women compared to the pre-pandemic period, said first author Dr. Dr. Bryant Shuey, assistant professor of medicine at the university. University of Pittsburgh.

“Alcohol consumption has increased over the past decade among women, especially during the pandemic, compared to men,” Shuey said. “This increase in alcohol consumption likely contributes to the very serious alcohol-related liver disease, mood disorders, alcohol withdrawal problems, and heart and stomach problems that we found in our study.”

Research shows that the rate of women aged 35 to 50 drinking five or more drinks in a row has increased twice as fast as men over the past decade. This trend appeared to worsen during the pandemic, with a 41% increase in binge drinking days among women.

“The study was very well done,” said Dr. Scott Hadland, an addiction specialist and associate professor of pediatrics at Mass General for Children and Harvard Medical School.

“I was surprised to see that rates of alcohol-related complications, which usually take years to accumulate, suddenly increased so quickly as a result of Covid-19,” said Hadland, who does not did not participate in the study.

The study, published Friday in the journal JAMA Health Forum, analyzed claims from an insurance database of people ages 15 and older to determine the number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations due to the alcohol abuse during the pandemic.

Of the diagnoses, between 54% and 66% were due to complications of alcohol-related liver disease, such as cirrhosis. Alcohol withdrawal and alcohol-related mood disorders accounted for 29-39% of visits.

“Withdrawal can be deadly. For people who drink large amounts daily, withdrawal can lead to what is called alcohol withdrawal delirium, which can cause seizures and even cardiac arrest,” Shuey said.

“When it comes to mood disorders, alcohol is known to reduce inhibition and is a risk factor for suicide. And if someone is suffering from alcohol-related psychosis, or even a manic episode, these are high-risk conditions that require urgent medical assessment,” he added.

A much smaller percentage of alcohol-related hospitalizations, 3 to 5 percent, were due to cardiomyopathy or a heart rhythm disorder, while 1 to 3 percent were due to gastric bleeding due to alcohol abuse. alcohol, according to the study.

Although the study could not determine cause and effect, one explanation for the rise could be that women already had a drinking problem before the pandemic, said Dr. Ibraheem Karaye., assistant professor of population health at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, via email. He was not involved in the new study.

“The pandemic then served as a tipping point, worsening their condition,” said Karaye, who published a study in 2023 on mortality and alcohol consumption.

One reason for this deterioration could be lack of access to health care during the pandemic, Shuey said.

“Women who were developing alcohol-related problems before the pandemic may have lost contact with their outpatient care provider, alcohol treatment center, or Alcoholics Anonymous support group, which then knocked them over and had problems with their drinking,” Shuey said.

Women are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol for several reasons, Hadland said. Their bodies contain less alcohol dehydrogenases, an enzyme needed to break down alcohol. Additionally, women’s bodies contain slightly more fat and less water than men’s.

“Because alcohol is dissolved in body water, it becomes more concentrated in women,” Hadland said. “And then there’s the size difference. Men are often a little taller and a little heavier, which means that the same amount of alcohol in the body is also more concentrated in women and can do more damage in lower doses.

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Women’s bodies metabolize alcohol differently than men’s, leading to an increased risk of liver, heart and brain complications, experts say.

The risk of liver damage and cirrhosis from alcohol abuse is higher in women than in men, and heart disease can occur at lower levels of consumption and over fewer years of drinking. than men, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, cognitive decline and brain shrinkage due to alcohol develop more quickly in women than in men, the CDC noted. Another key gender difference: Alcohol consumption is also associated with breast cancer in women, even at low levels of consumption.

How do you know if your drinking has gone to the dark side? A telltale sign is that drinking alcohol has negative consequences, Karaye said.

“Recognizing alcohol-related problems may involve observing changes in behavior, such as increased drinking, mood swings or a lack of responsibilities,” he said.

Another sign: you continue to drink despite the negative impact on your physical or mental health. And there’s no need to call in sick or work with a hangover: it could be as simple as having trouble getting up in the morning or having more disagreements with colleagues and loved ones .

Here’s another red flag: You’re pouring big glasses without realizing it. Current dietary guidelines require no more than two standard drinks per day for men and one for women and for anyone 65 and older.

But many people pour much more than a standard drink, which is 12 ounces of regular beer, 4 ounces of regular wine or 1 ½ ounces of liquor.

“I recommend using the alcohol use screening tool provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Karaye said. “This is a trusted resource designed to help individuals assess their alcohol consumption.”

If you (or a loved one) are struggling with alcohol, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor, Hadland said.

“There are medications available, probably the most common and effective one that we use, called naltrexone, and there are others that can also offer some degree of help,” he said.

Many behavioral support groups can help, such as 12-step programs and individual therapy.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a toll-free, confidential national helpline open 24/7 to provide referrals to local treatment centers, support groups, and community organizations: 800-662-HELP ( 4357) and 800-487-4889 (ATS option).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a tool called the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator for adults. For adolescents, the institute recommends these resources.

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Gn Health

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