Reports from around the world are showing a trend of increasing alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research suggests traumatic events such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters lead to increased population level alcohol use. Considering the prolonged nature of the pandemic experts warn that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the alcohol epidemic.
Great East Japan Earthquake
The 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku was a magnitude 9.0–9.1 undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan that occurred on Friday March 11, 2011. The earthquake is often referred to in Japan as the Great East Japan Earthquake.
It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that may have reached heights of up to 40.5 meters and which, in the Sendai area, traveled at 700 km/h and up to 10 km (6 mi) inland. Residents of Sendai had only eight to ten minutes of warning, and more than a hundred evacuation sites were washed away.
The tsunami swept the Japanese mainland and the latest report from the Japanese National Police Agency report confirms 15,899 deaths, 6,157 injured, and 2,529 people missing across twenty prefectures, and a report from 2015 indicated 228,863 people were still living away from their home in either temporary housing or due to permanent relocation.
Crisis Regions Show Greater Alcohol Use Disorder Numbers
The data come from analysis of two statistical surveys by the health ministry:
- the Report on Regional Public Health Services and Health Promotion Services, which compiles numbers of consultations at municipal governments and public health centers; and
- the Report on Public Health Administration and Services, which tallies the number of consultations concerning alcohol dependency and similar issues at prefectural mental health and welfare centers.
Consultations done face-to-face, by phone, email or by having public employees visit the individuals concerned, were added together.
The data indicates the following:
- Consultation for alcohol-related issues were higher in 2018 compared to 2009 in the three prefectures most affected by the March 2011 distaster.
- There were a total 4,094 alcohol-related consultations in 2009 in the three prefectures prior to the March 2011 disaster which rose to 7,751 in 2018. A rise of 1.89 times comparative to 2009.
- Miyagi shows the highest increase of consultations with a 2.6 times increase in 2018 comparative to 2009 followed by Fukushima which recorded a 1.72 times increase and then Iwate at 1.06 times. For Iwate comparisons with 2015, when the post-disaster number of consultations peaked, show that it increased 1.37 times.
- Compared to these three prefectures, the national consultations only rose by 1.18 times in 2018 compared to 2009.
Officials suggest that improved availability of services is also one reason that there is a rise in consultation in these three prefectures.
Support workers go to temporary housing facilities, and recommend to people struggling with alcohol or their families that they go to talk to someone at the municipal government or public health centers,” said a Miyagi Prefectural Government Officer, as per The Mainichi.A Miyagi Prefectural Government Officer
Improved access to consultation services is also apparent from the decline in the number of people hospitalized for alcohol use disorders. The number of patients admitted fell from 618 in 2010 to 399 in 2019 which is a 35% decline.
We could speculate that patient numbers falling at the same time as consultations rise in the three disaster-hit prefectures is in part proof of effective intervention before people’s conditions develop into addictive disorders,” said Sachio Matsushita, an expert in addictive disorders and deputy director at the National Hospital Organization Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, as per The Mainichi.Sachio Matsushita, addiction expert, National Hospital Organization Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture
However, Matsushita suggests that the numbers also indicate that people in disaster hit areas are more prone to developing addictions. He says national and prefectural governments should further their efforts to get people in such areas to consultations early and increase capacity of medical institutions able to help them towards recovery.