Alcohol-Related Harm During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In 2020, deaths from alcohol-specific causes in England and Wales increased by almost 20% compared with 2019, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics; 80% of the alcohol-specific deaths were due to alcohol-related liver disease. While the causes of this increase will be multifactorial and take time to unravel completely, it seems likely that it is at least in part related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data presented at Digestive Disease Week 2021 suggest that increases in alcohol-related liver disease during the pandemic are likely to be seen elsewhere, too: an analysis across a health-care system in Rhode Island, USA, showed an increase, relative to 2019, of almost 60% in the proportion of inpatient consults for alcohol-related gastrointestinal and liver diseases during lockdown (and a 53% increase for acute alcohol-related hepatitis). In the reopening phase, the proportion of inpatient consults for alcohol-related digestive conditions remained higher than in 2019.
Problems with alcohol are often under-treated: a recent study from the USA showed that, although 81% of individuals who met the criteria for alcohol use disorder had received medical care during the previous year, only 12% had been told to reduce their alcohol use and just 6% actually received treatment.
As the pandemic evolves and health-care provision returns to a greater degree of normality, it is vital that clinicians actively screen for and address alcohol problems. Collaboration between clinical and alcohol services is needed to ensure these patients have ready access to alcohol counselling and addiction treatments, and for those with alcohol-related liver disease to obtain the care they need.