The past year has not been easy on most of us, in a variety of ways. But much of the public focus tends to fall on Covid itself, along with pre-existing conditions that can make the disease worse, and even upon weaknesses within our healthcare infrastructure.
But we’re just now beginning to fully understand the tolls taken upon our mental health, along with associated health problems. Many advocacy groups are reporting a surge in alcohol and substance abuse at this time, and statistics show spikes in deaths associated with alcohol or drug misuse.
Excessive alcohol consumption is already associated with 255 deaths per day in the US, or more than 93,000 deaths per year. But during the pandemic these numbers have jumped, depending upon location, showing a 20 percent increase in Jacksonville, Florida and a frightening 100 percent increase in Chicago, Illinois. According to the national public health group Well Being Trust, the pandemic might be associated with about 75,000 additional dependency-related deaths.
Alcohol or drug dependency is dangerous for obvious reasons but can also exacerbate existing health conditions. Blood pressure and heart disease can be more common and worse in those who drink alcohol regularly, and respiratory complications from Covid-19 can be more severe as well. Alcohol impairs the immune system and makes drinkers more susceptible to a range of infectious diseases.
While the above numbers might be shocking, it is probably no surprise to learn that many Americans have used alcohol more often than usual during the pandemic. Whether to cope with stress, loneliness, or financial problems, alcohol consumption has seen an uptick in the past year. Abuse of pain pills and other prescription medications has increased, too.
Learn to recognize the signs of alcohol dependence, such as feeling a strong desire to drink, shaking hands when not drinking, and needing to drink more just to achieve the same feeling. Problems with work and relationships also tend to occur.
If you suspect that you or a loved one might be developing a dependency on alcohol or another substance, ask your physician about treatment options. Because dependency can increase the odds of health problems and premature death, seeking help early can save a life.