Alcohol-Related Issues Sent More People to the Hospital During COVID-19 Lockdown

Over the past 16 months, healthcare and public health professionals have devoted much attention and plenty of resources to managing COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 diagnoses may represent the most visible health consequence of the pandemic. However, COVID-19 cases are not the only toll the pandemic is taking on physical or mental health.

In a study to be presented at Digestive Disease Week 2021, researchers from Rhode Island have found that inpatient consultations for alcohol-related liver and gastrointestinal (GI) diseases increased during the state’s lockdown phase and remained high during the reopening.

“When we went into lockdown, many people experienced significant negative impacts, such as social isolation, job loss, and an increase in anxiety and depression,” the lead author of the study, Dr. Waihong Chung, said in a press release.

“These experiences may have led people to increase their alcohol consumption, which could explain why we are seeing a surge in the volume of consultations for alcohol-related diseases,” he continued.

Chung is a research fellow for the Division of Gastroenterology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He’s scheduled to present the findings of his study on May 21.

Alcohol-related consults increased during lockdown

To assess the burden of alcohol-associated diseases, Chung and his fellow researchers conducted an audit of inpatient GI consultations at Rhode Island hospitals during the state’s lockdown and reopening phases.

They found that during the state’s lockdown, the total number of GI consultations dropped by 27 percent.

However, the proportion of consultations for alcohol-related disease rose by roughly 60 percent.

This included consults for alcohol-related hepatitis, cirrhosis, gastritis, and pancreatitis.

During the reopening phase, the total number of GI consults returned to prepandemic levels. The proportion of alcohol-related consults remained highly elevated — at a level nearly 79% higher than in 2019.

“It’s similar here in the New York area,” Dr. Thomas D. Schiano, the director of the adult liver transplantation program at the Recanati/Miller Transplantation Institute in New York City, told Healthline.

“We have a large liver transplant program here, and we’re transferring enormous numbers of patients who have decompensated liver disease, who have alcoholic hepatitis,” he said.