In this research viewpoint authors Sugarman and Greenfield discuss the compounding effects of alcohol harm and COVID-19 and how to respond to the crisis.
The authors discuss the existing alcohol burden in the country and the rising alcohol use due to using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with pandemic stressors and uncertainty. There are specific high risks for people with alcohol use disorders (AUD) or those with alcohol problems. The heavy physical and mental health burden due to alcohol highlights the critical need for interventions to address harm.
The authors then discuss approaches which can be implemented in the USA to reduce the rising alcohol use and harm during the pandemic. Recognition of the population risk of increased alcohol consumption is a first step and the intervention approach must be multifaceted. Public health messaging, early intervention, and access to treatment are key components and include primary care treatment integration, collaborative care coordination, adequate insurance and reimbursement, and expanded use of telehealth and other virtual platforms.
The full impact of COVID-19 on alcohol use is not yet known. However, the current rise in alcohol use during the acute phase of the pandemic mandates a deliberate and clear public health and medical response and a multifaceted approach. The sooner experts can intervene to assist individuals in limiting their use of alcohol as a means of coping with this pandemic’s myriad stressors, the better chance USA has of preventing severe psychosocial and health consequences of overuse of alcohol and an increase in AUD as an important comorbidity of COVID-19.