Author: Charles Frank

GLOBAL NEWS: Busting myths on alcohol and COVID-19

covid and alcohol

It is possible for high concentrations of alcohol, such as 60–90%, to kill some forms of bacteria and viruses. Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available. There’s no consensus on whether alcohol affects the antiviral medications used to treat COVID-19. Alcohol consumption may make your symptoms worse, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

A summary of studies from different countries (China, Finland, Belgium, Chile, US, Poland) reports increased alcohol consumption during lockdown compared to prelockdown [22,24,26–30]. Specifically, many studies report an increase in binge drinking, as well as solitary drinking [27,29,31,32▪,33,34]. Although some studies observed an increase in drinking among women [27,35], others did not observe gender differences in alcohol use patterns [36]. Some studies report relative increase in drinking among black and non-Hispanic population [27,37▪▪].

Compared with all other causes of death, which increased by 16%, alcohol-related deaths increased at a higher rate. Researchers compared the number of alcohol-related deaths in 2019 against the number of similar deaths in 2020. The incidence of alcohol-related death was then compared with all other causes of death during that period of time. Alcohol use and alcohol-related deaths increased during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, alcohol bans in South Africa resulted in reduction of unnatural death by half, reduction in assaults, accidents, other injuries, sexual assaults [20▪].

  1. However, the 2021 study mentioned above suggests that people who drink alcohol often are more likely to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) during COVID-19 hospitalization.
  2. You can take a couple of steps to avoid contracting or transmitting the COVID-19 virus while drinking.
  3. Unfortunately, the pandemic also made accessing substance use disorder treatment more difficult.
  4. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people may experience higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.

It was observed that there were difficulties to get help for withdrawal management and access to medication for preventing relapses (like disulfiram) [92▪]. Data from other countries suggests reductions in alcohol use during the pandemic. An online survey in nine European countries [49] reported reduced alcohol use and harmful drinking secondary to lockdown and restrictions on sales, especially among young women [50,51,52]. Among regular drinkers in France, alcohol consumption reduced during lockdown [53]. Although some nations banned alcohol sales completely during lockdown, others declared it as an essential commodity, resulting in different problems across countries. Alcohol use has added to the burden of the problem particularly among vulnerable groups like the adolescents, elderly, patients with cancer, as well as health professionals.

COVID-19 Topics

However, researchers found that drinking returned to pre-pandemic levels by June 2021. In England, the rates of smoking cessation and use of remote cessation support during lockdown were higher. Compared to prepandemic period, the use of evidence-based support to reduce the use of alcohol decreased among high-risk drinkers [55]. In India, in the early period of lockdown, less than 20% of registered patients with alcohol dependence were able to seek treatment.

Disulfiram ethanol-reactions were observed in around 20% of the patients on disulfiram who used alcohol-based hand sanitisers [21]. To understand the effect of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on persons with alcohol use disorders. NIAAA Director, Dr. George Koob, discusses what we know about how alcohol affects our immune and stress systems, along with issues related to treatment access during the pandemic.

covid and alcohol

You can take a couple of steps to avoid contracting or transmitting the COVID-19 virus while drinking. Going “cold turkey” when you have a physical dependence on alcohol can be dangerous. Alcohol can cause digestive upset, difficulty sleeping, trouble with concentration, and other unpleasant side effects that may worsen your symptoms. If you don’t have a physical dependency on alcohol, and you drink lightly or moderately, consider stopping while you have COVID-19.

It is thus important to focus and train healthcare workers like nursing health professionals to deliver addiction related services [117]. Another important way to reduce the treatment gap is to harness technology [57]. One such example is e-consult for people with SUD during the pandemic and training support to healthcare workers in distant places to manage with SUD [118].

Alcohol and the immune system

Telehealth, group meetings and online consultations can be some ways to handle the increased demand during and after pandemic [119]. Finally, adapting to the current situation and preparedness to handle the repercussions due to pandemic is important. It is important to focus on the preventive dimension and early intervention. Survivor guilt, PTSD among survivors may put people at risk to addiction [124]. Evidence based policy changes, improving access to treatment for alcohol use disorders, liaison services, evidence-based prevention, and prioritising care of vulnerable population are urgently required [125]. In the UK, alcohol purchase increased by 40% during lockdown across all strata [103].

Alcohol can also weaken your immune system and contribute to risk-taking behavior (like not wearing a mask) that could increase your chances of contracting the virus. Read stories about the efforts underway to prevent, detect, and treat COVID-19 and its effects on our health. A total of 455 titles were obtained using a PUBMED search (keywords related to COVID-19 and alcohol), among which 227 abstracts were screened, and 95 articles reviewed (on 25th November 2020). This review looks at alcohol-related policies during the COVID-19 pandemic across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. NIAAA supports a wide range of research on alcohol use and its effects on health and wellbeing. NIAAA’s free, research-based resources can help cut through the clutter and confusion about how alcohol affects people’s lives.

covid and alcohol

However, during the second phase of lockdown 2.0, as compared to prelockdown, there was an increase in search of terms related to benzodiazepines [96▪]. These findings indicate that the initial search was towards procuring alcohol and later to access treatment for alcohol-related extended withdrawals. Similar google trend analysis suggests post lockdown increase in search terms related to alcohol withdrawal and methods of procurement, reflecting changes in trends [97▪]. Hence, screening patients with alcohol use is important especially in areas with higher prevalence of alcohol use disorders or history of liver disease. Furthermore, use of medications like Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs in patients with alcohol use disorder poses a risk of hepatotoxicity.

Have researchers found any trends in alcohol-related deaths and health problems during the pandemic?

Consuming any alcohol poses health risks, but consuming high-strength ethyl alcohol (ethanol), particularly if it has been adulterated with methanol, can result in severe health consequences, including death. Consultation-Liaison services across UK saw a sharp decline in alcohol-related and mental health referrals, during the lockdown, followed by a surge post lockdown for all disorders [65]. Another major concern, in the absence of licit alcohol, has been the consumption of methanol or of household products leading to methanol toxicity, as reported from Iran [14▪▪]. Serious complications, including blindness, putamen necrosis, subcortical white matter haemorrhage and even death have been reported. This raises the need to appropriately address SUD problems contextually in different phases of the pandemic [7]. Special attention needs to be focused on preventive aspects of alcohol related harms [8].

Are you more likely to develop long COVID if you drink alcohol during an active infection?

However, this was levelled by a reduction in sales at bars and restaurants. The US reported increased alcohol sale during the initial part of the lockdown [104]. There are documented instances of attempts by the alcohol industry to influence public policy by framing alcohol as an essential product and arguing that restrictions are complex and ineffective [105]. In Australia, industry resorted to social media advertising through new means like memes. It was observed that there were advertisements every 35 s, focusing on easy access, encouragement to buy more alcohol, to drink during COVID-19, drinking to cope and normalising alcohol [106▪]. We’ve also seen more people end up in hospitals due to alcohol misuse and its consequences, including withdrawal symptoms and liver disease.

Alcohol misuse is already a public health concern in the United States, and alcohol has the potential to further complicate the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple ways. Below are links to important resources for the public, clinicians, and researchers from NIAAA. Finally, some jurisdictions loosened alcohol restrictions during the pandemic. More restaurants and bars started selling alcohol for off-site consumption. Many policy changes and trends are likely to continue long after the pandemic ends, increasing the risk of alcohol-related problems.

Also, during the period of shelter-in-place orders, children may have been exposed to unhealthy behaviors related to alcohol use. This could influence their future risk for problem drinking, AUD, and health problems related to alcohol use. Alcohol use might also cause or worsen certain mental health conditions during the pandemic.