Health risks as drinking rises since pandemic

That nighttime glass (or more) of wine that many people rely on to unwind at the end of the day is under new scrutiny by health experts—especially if you’re a woman.

A recent study confirmed that no amount of alcohol protects against cardiovascular disease, so drinking red wine or spirits in the name of heart health may not have any benefits.

The research is particularly timely, as Americans have been drinking more alcohol since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, a habit that can have deadly consequences.

Between 2019 and 2020, the rate of alcohol-related deaths rose by about 25%, reflecting the “hidden losses of the epidemic,” such as increased drinking to counteract pandemic-related stress, researchers reported in JAMA last month.

Another study concluded that mortality from alcohol-related liver disease accelerated during the epidemic among men and women. This “alarming” trend calls for “national efforts to reduce alcohol consumption nationally,” the authors wrote last month in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

‘Women need intervention’

In particular, the epidemic has had a disproportionate impact on women’s drinking, said Don Sugarman, Ph.D., a psychiatric researcher in the division of alcohol, drug and addiction at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

She noted that women increased their alcohol consumption at a higher rate than men, particularly on heavy drinking days – those who drink four or more drinks within two hours.

She added that the health effects on women can be particularly worrisome because they absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men, so alcohol stays in a woman’s body longer, increasing the risk of liver disease, heart disease and certain types of cancer.

“Women who have fewer years of alcohol use than men have more of these physical consequences. So they get sick faster than men because of alcohol,” Sugarman told TODAY.

“In terms of mental health, women are actually twice as likely to develop depression and anxiety as men. We know that women are more likely than men to drink to overcome these negative emotions, and alcohol use only exacerbates depression. It exacerbates anxiety. It makes insomnia worse “.

In an article published this month in The New York Times, a woman described her own experience with alcoholism: “I thought about the nights I put my kids to sleep while they were high and how they noticed the change in my voice when I was drinking. I thought about an argument With my husband, insomnia, dry mouth, headache, and regret.

Her sober journey began when she wrote “Do I Have a Drinking Problem?” in the search engine.

“Women need to intervene. Our physical and mental health is suffering because of drinking,” she wrote. “More women need to talk about it — and seek help.”

But even before the pandemic, women’s drinking levels were worrying experts. TODAY reported in 2018 that women were drinking nearly as much as men, filling a historically wide gap.

Sugarman said women, particularly in the maternal age group, have been “bombarded” with alcohol ads over the years. Ads and social media posts can create the expectation that wine-soaked days are healthy fun, but the negative health consequences are real.

Reducing alcohol intake reduces the risk of heart disease

Dr Krishna Arajam, co-author of the recent investigation by the JAMA Network Open that concluded that if they could not quit alcohol together, women and men might see health benefits just by quitting drinking. against heart disease.

He noted that it is true that when you group people by how much they drink, those who drink light to moderate amounts of alcohol appear to have lower rates of heart disease than the others.

But those moderate drinkers also tend to have healthier behaviors such as getting regular exercise, lower smoking rates and maintaining a lower weight. When Aragam and colleagues adapted to these factors, any protective associations with alcohol largely disappeared.

For someone in good health, the risk of cardiovascular disease is still “fairly modest” at low levels of alcohol consumption — one drink a day or less — but it has escalated significantly beyond that amount, he noted. The investigation found that people who drank three or more drinks a day had a multifold risk.

“Our results call for a bit of a doubling down on heavy drinkers and trying focused efforts to get people to quit because all we’re seeing is that alcohol consumption at these levels contributes to higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol, and increased heart attack rates,” said Aragam, a preventive cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, For TODAY.

They would probably actually get the majority of their benefits if they could cut back on one drink per day. This is sometimes a lot more achievable for people than going cold turkey.”

A standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, but many modern wine glasses have enough space for several times that amount, so it’s easy to pour more and think it’s just one drink. A study found that the capacity of a wine glass increased sevenfold over a period of 300 years.

Current US guidelines advise limiting alcohol to two or fewer drinks per day for men; And one drink or less a day for women. Aragam noted that it may be best to be conservative and stick to one drink a day or less for everyone.

Sugarman said this may be too much for many women, depending on their mental health or family history of drinking.

How to measure your relationship with alcohol:

Sugarman advised making a list of the pros and cons of the effects of drinking. Feel free to list the pros, such as instant stress relief, because the pros section can help you figure out what to do to replace alcohol. Could you try exercise instead of wine to relieve stress, for example?

Other questions to ask yourself about your alcohol use include:

  • How long do I drink and then recover from the effects of alcohol?
  • Do I drink wine even though I know it makes my mental or physical health worse?
  • Do friends and loved ones tell me they are concerned about my drinking?
  • Am I trying to hide my drink?
  • Do I feel very possessive of alcohol and do not want to be robbed?
  • Do I give up activities to continue drinking or to recover from the effects of drinking?
  • Can I take a break from alcohol for a week or a month? If not, then why?

Sugarman said women are less likely to seek and receive treatment, noting that there is a lot of stigma surrounding women and alcohol use. If you suspect you have a problem, talking to your primary care doctor can be the first step, she advised.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction has more resources on how to find treatment for alcohol.

“There needs to be more public awareness of the concerns about women drinking alcohol, and I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” Sugarman said.

“It’s important to help people understand the risks because they wouldn’t be motivated to make any changes if they only saw the benefits.”

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