The University of Michigan health system reports that alcoholic liver disease is up by 30% over the last year. Doctors are increasingly seeing patients with heavy alcohol problems or binge alcohol use since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Doctors observe that cases for alcoholic liver diseases are rising alongside rising alcohol use. Women and young people – specific target groups of Big Alcohol – are at higher risk according to the data.
As Movendi International reported previously, Big Alcohol’s targeting of women in the U.S. has made alcohol a serious women’s health issue.
- One recent study published in JAMA network found, between 2000 to 2016, alcohol-induced deaths among women increased between 3.1% and 3.6% a year.
- This is about 3 times more than the death rate increase among men.
- Another study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) showed women’s alcohol-related death rate increased by 85% compared to a 40% increase among men, despite the majority of alcohol-related deaths between 1999 – 2017 occurring among men.
The pandemic has only made matters worse. Women have been taking the brunt of many new pressures during the pandemic. This includes balancing work from home with childcare and virtual schooling of kids, caring for older adults and increased home responsibilities.
Compounding the alcohol marketing onslaught is that women face higher risks due to alcohol, such as from domestic violence, while being trapped in situations they cannot escape due to isolation and lockdown measures. Women also face disproportionate harm from alcohol. Alcohol has been linked to multiple health issues specific for women, including breast cancer, brain and heart damage, and risks during pregnancy both for the mother and the unborn child. The alcohol industry tries to muddy the waters about these higher risks for women in their pursuit of profit maximization.
Big Alcohol has been aggressively targeting women long before the pandemic. Not just through marketing, but also through normalizing alcohol use among women, using alcohol as a gender equalizer and by exploiting the feminist movement.
Gap in support services and alcohol policy
According to psychiatrist Scott Winder, alcoholic liver disease is the physical manifestation with roots in emotional and psychological distress. Therefore, successful treatment needs to address both, but often does not. A patient discharged from the hospital with alcoholic liver disease is motivated to get psychological help, but due to lack of treatment services, frequently can’t find outpatient care until weeks or months later.
Advanced liver damage can require transplants. But there are simply not enough organs available to cover all patients in need of one.
What it unfortunately means is that many of these young people may not survive, and die very young — in their 20s and 30s. It’s horrific,” said Dr. Haripriya Maddur, a hepatologist at Northwestern University, as per NPR.Dr. Haripriya Maddur, hepatologist, Northwestern University
The federal government needs to urgently prioritize alcohol policy development to prevent and reduce alcohol harm, such as liver disease, and to raise more revenue to invest in healthcare services, for example to improve access to treatment for patients with alcohol-related liver disease. Alcohol taxation can achieve this by both reducing population level harm and raising government revenue for re-investment into the health system.
Unfortunately, in December 2019, the United States Congress incentivized the alcohol industry by extending the major tax break granted in 2017, losing billions of dollars in government revenue that could better be invested in healthcare and health promotion.
Alcohol taxation is one of the three Best Buy alcohol policy solutions recommended by the World Health Organization. The other two policy measures include reducing alcohol availability and advertising bans.