This month’s post concludes a two-part series began in March, focusing on COVID-19 and our overall health. If you haven’t read the March post, I highly encourage you to do so for some background into the relationship between inflammation and COVID-19 risks and severity. And if you haven’t seen it otherwise, I also encourage you to check out the article “Inflammation – Sensitive Material” on our Beyond Pain website.
Today we’re going to focus on alcohol.
The pandemic has made a mess out of our lives in many ways, and one of the more sinister and under- recognized ones has been a drastic increase in drinking. Three months into the pandemic Nielsen reported a greater than 50% increase in alcohol sales in the US compared to a year prior and online sales increased by over 250%.
Several national surveys and epidemiologic studies over the past year have shown corresponding concerning rates of increase in alcohol consumption (not just purchases.) For those already struggling with alcoholism but previously maintaining sobriety successfully with the help of grassroots mutual support organizations such as AA, social distancing dealt a huge blow to those efforts and in many cases derailed years of sobriety. Many of our patients fell off the wagon over the past year and attributed relapse primarily to the lack of personal support.
This is a major public health problem in its own right, irrespective of COVID-19. Alcohol may be the number one preventable cause of death, claiming 261 deaths per day and shortening the lives of those who die by an average of 29 years. Anyone who has lost a loved one to a drunk driver (or to alcoholic liver disease or suicide) doesn’t need me to expound on statistics.
But back to the matter at hand: alcohol also elicits a significant inflammatory state within the body (as well as packing on the pounds), both of which dovetail the COVID-19 attack plan. It also significantly impairs the immune system leading to worsened infections of all sorts and even cancer.
It’s only natural for human beings to seek out a source of comfort in times of distress; very few people get hooked on alcohol without some degree of a chemical-coping component. But the fact is, alcohol is a profound poison that exerts toxic effects on basically every system in the body, and unfortunately as alluded to above the effects do not stop with that person. There are domino effects on established relationships, and on perfect strangers including violence, accidents and other societal burdens. We need to find a better source of comfort - one that doesn’t kill.
If you drink alcohol on a daily basis, or if you binge on days off, odds are good you have a serious problem and need help with it. Talk to your doctor or feel free to make an appointment with us as well; there are plenty of good treatment options today that may just save your life as well as keep you from taking others.