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Alcohol Awareness Month: Resources and Stats on Alcohol Use Disorder During COVID-19

April’s Alcohol Awareness Month may be coming to a close, but the discussion about alcohol abuse over the last year will last much longer.

“COVID-19 has had a major impact on increased consumption of alcohol in the general population, especially with women. Closer to home, we have had several post-transplant patients relapse with alcohol due in large part to the pandemic,” says Randy Hunter, PhD, transplant psychologist on the medical staff at Methodist Transplant Specialists.

He says that factors like social isolation, loss of employment, inability to attend support groups or in-person counseling, and restricted access to activities which can act as a healthy alternatives to drinking have all led to high relapse rates. As the country emerges from the pandemic, Dr. Hunter encourages loved ones of relapsed individuals to avoid shaming and instead focus their efforts on support and options for recovery.

Alcohol abuse - quick facts

  • Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is the most prevalent Substance Use Disorder and causes the most harm in Western countries.
  • An estimated 14.4 million American ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder in 2018.¹
  • 1 in 4 adults reported drinking more this past year to manage stress.²
  • Binge drinking is defined as 4 drinks for women, 5 for men in about 2 hours.
  • Heavy drinking is classified as more than eight alcoholic beverages per week for women and more than 15 for men.

1 -National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

2 -American Psychological Association

Increasing awareness

Alcohol Awareness Month is a public health program organized by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence as a way of increasing outreach and education on the dangers of alcoholism and issues related to alcohol.

“There is still a great deal of work to be done in educating people about alcohol abuse,” Zahid Vahora, MD, specialist in hepatology and gastroenterology on the medical staff of The Liver Institute at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. According to Dr. Vahora, there is a disconnect between what commercials, TV and movies are portraying as ‘normal’ levels of drinking and real life. “As a healthcare provider, I’m seeing that patients don’t always know what a “standard drink” amount is or what is considered binge drinking. Add to that, the constant portrayal of characters needing a drink to unwind or cope with stress and it’s all too easy to see why self-medicating with alcohol leads to alcohol use disorder which in turn can lead to alcoholic liver disease,” he says.

Alcoholic liver disease

Alcoholic liver disease, also called Alcoholic-related liver disease (ARLD) is a serious problem in America. In 2019, more than 44,000 people died from this disease in 2019.

“The data for 2020 isn’t completed yet, but anecdotally, I can say that we have seen an alarming increase in alcoholic liver disease and alcoholic hepatitis in patients since the pandemic began,” says Dr. Vahora.

Alcoholic liver disease is caused by damage to the liver from years of excessive drinking. Years of alcohol abuse can cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage of liver disease.

According to the American Liver Foundation, between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis. Alcoholic liver cirrhosis can’t be reversed, but treatments may slow the disease’s progression. The first step is to safely stop drinking, talk to your doctor about your options.

Visit our Resources for Healthy Living page for area resources, support groups, and organizations. If you or a loved one would like more information about this topic, please contact us at 214-947-4400 or online at here.