Alcohol-related illnesses in Alberta increase during COVID-19 pandemic


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Alberta is seeing 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 rare causes of hospitalizations unrelated to COVID that have increased in the province since March 2020, says doctor from Calgary, Dr. Eddy Lang.

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

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

“Considering the number of hospitalizations we have in Alberta, this is a significant increase,” said Lang, attributing the increase in rates of alcohol use to heightened feelings of pandemic anxiety.

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“There have been a lot of job losses and family separations. We know people deal with it with alcohol and cannabis. This will manifest itself with people who go too far, ”he said. “Alcohol is like gasoline on the fire of mental illness. If you are already depressed you might think that alcohol will make you feel better, but in the long run it makes things worse because it contributes to suicidal thoughts.

Increased rates of alcohol use in Alberta are also manifested in liver health.

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

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

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The higher alcohol consumption rates are mainly due to changes in personal habits during the lockdown, 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 got worse.

“In the second and third waves, we noticed that people presented themselves sicker than in the first wave,” Shaheen said. “Patients are waiting longer to come to the hospital. They tell us: “We are afraid that if we come, the same treatment (pre-COVID) will not be available.” They say they are trying to fend for themselves.

Shaheen reported on a case where a 75-year-old man arrived at the hospital with a peptic ulcer in his stomach.

“It’s rare in North America. It’s something we see in textbooks in developing countries, ”Shaheen said. “He died in intensive care because he kept bleeding. He was afraid to come to the hospital because of the COVID. We see it more now because patients don’t come to the hospital at the right time.

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Shaheen admits he fears the long-term impacts of increased alcohol consumption, as alcohol-related hospitalization rates have continued to be high beyond the scope of his study, emergency services seeing trends in the fourth wave that are similar to March 2020.

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

“We need to give front-line physicians the tools to help patients reduce their consumption. We are starting to collaborate with partners in mental health. If the patients are at high risk, we need to follow up. “

With reference to Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines from the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, ShaHeen said men shouldn’t have more than 15 standard drinks per week. Women should not drink 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 Help Line 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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