Experts say pandemic-related unemployment and loneliness could be driving alcohol use.
Rates of alcohol liver disease have increased as alcohol sales and alcohol use have risen.
Over time, alcohol liver disease may lead to cirrhosis, which can be deadly.
In the 11 months since the pandemic began, drinking rates and alcohol sales have been steadily increasing.
Doctors have been warning it’s a concern, and some say we’re already seeing the consequences, with alcoholic liver disease is increasingly affecting people younger than 40.
Although the trend “has been alarming for years,” Dr. Raymond Chung, a hepatologist at Harvard University, told Eli Cahan of the Los Angeles Times and California Healthline, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. “What we’re seeing now is truly dramatic.”
Dr. Haripriya Maddur, a hepatologist at Northwestern Medicine, has also been treating young people with health issues related to alcohol liver disease, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Maddur said young people are facing unique hardships, like trying to start a family, or find a job in a tough economy.
“They have mouths to feed and bills to pay, but no job,” she told the Los Angeles Times, “so they turn to booze as the last coping mechanism remaining.”
The damaging effects of alcohol abuse
Heavy and binge drinking are both considered excessive alcohol use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Excessive drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men in one night, or 15 drinks or more over the course of the week. For women, it’s four or more drinks on one occasion, or eight or more drinks in one week.
The short-term health effects of alcohol abuse include potentially getting alcohol poisoning, or a miscarriage among pregnant women. But if you continue to drink excessively over time, it can lead to high blood pressure, mental health problems, or alcoholism.
If excessive drinking continues over the years, it can lead to a fatty liver, an inflamed liver, or cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver. Once cirrhosis progresses, it’s more difficult for your liver to function, which can be fatal, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some experts worry alcohol abuse will continue long after the pandemic is over
Another study from researchers at the RAND corporation found that alcohol consumption was up almost 30% more during the pandemic, compared to a few months before.
Experts worry that we are only seeing the beginning of alarming alcohol use levels, and fear the pandemic will have long-term consequences.
“I think we’re only on the cusp of this,” Maddur told the Los Angeles Times. “Quarantine is one thing, but the downturn of the economy, that’s not going away anytime soon.”