Pandemic Alcohol Intake and GI Health
The past year-and-a-half has been incredibly difficult for everyone. From hundreds of millions of deaths to the challenge of lockdowns, social isolation and economic hardship, no one has remained unscathed.
Many people have turned to harmful coping mechanisms to deal with the medical, psychological, and sociological problems brought on by pandemic-related stress. While research is still limited, studies suggest that alcohol consumption has increased greatly. The first week of the pandemic, alcohol sales increased by 54% and online alcohol sales increased by 262%. A cross-sectional survey of American adults published in December 2020 found that 60% of people reported increased drinking. 34% of people engaged in binge-drinking and 7% reported extreme binge-drinking.
The impact of increased alcohol consumption on gastrointestinal health is even more staggering. Studies presented at the 2021 Digestive Disease Week suggest a major surge in inpatient consults for alcohol-related gastrointestinal and liver diseases since the beginning of the pandemic. Waihong Chung, a research fellow for the Division of Gastroenterology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, conducted extensive research on the subject.
Chung found that during the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic, the number of in-person gastrointestinal appointments decreased by 27% (due to restrictions/closings). However, of those appointments, the proportion of consults for alcohol-related GI and liver diseases, such as hepatitis, pancreatitis, gastritis and cirrhosis increased by 59.6%! And, as lockdowns lifted, that percentage increased to 78.7%. Furthermore, patients with alcoholic hepatitis increased by 127.2% (since 2019) and the number of inpatient endoscopic procedures almost tripled.
Chung also contested that the occurrence of alcohol-related diseases could be much higher than reported, since many illnesses take time to manifest or show mild symptoms. Even if you seem to experience no ill-effects from binge-drinking, you should be aware that excessive alcohol is wreaking havoc on your gastrointestinal system. In the short-term, excessive alcohol causes intestinal inflammation and organ damage, alters intestinal microbiota, harms intestinal immunity and homeostasis, and damages the liver. In the long-term, you can suffer from alcohol-related gastrointestinal and liver diseases.
Unfortunately, the long-term effects of Covid-19 on alcohol misuse and overconsumption still have yet to be realized. For example, following the 2003 SARS epidemic, individuals in China who had been directly affected/involved were far more likely to abuse alcohol three years after the epidemic ended. The lasting psychological effects of the pandemic will likely increase alcohol misuse for years to come.
Besides causing fatal gastrointestinal conditions, alcohol can worsen existing mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. If you or a loved one has been struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol during the pandemic, it’s recommended that you talk to your primary care doctor or seek medical help. There are behavioral, medical, and mutual-support-based treatment options available for you.
If you are struggling with gastrointestinal issues, induced by alcohol or by something else, seek experienced medical attention. The professional team of medical providers at Gastro Health Partners serves patients across the state of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Contact a location near you today for more information, or to schedule an appointment.