A new Ontario study suggests there was a spike in health-care visits related to alcohol during the pandemic, both among people with a history of problems with alcohol as well as those confronting drinking issues for the first time.
The study, which used data from research institute ICES, shows a 22 per cent jump in visits to physicians including family doctors, psychiatrists and addiction medicine specialists and a six per cent increase in hospitalizations.
Lead author and Ottawa Hospital family physician Dr. Daniel Myran says at the same time, there was a 15 per cent drop in alcohol-related emergency-room visits, likely because people generally stopped going to ERs for fear of catching COVID-19 or overwhelming an already stretched health-care system.
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Myran says much of the rise in out-of-hospital care was sought virtually, and that suggests those services should be bolstered to help improve access for people struggling with alcohol use.
He says the study, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, looked at data between March 2020 and May 2021, and suggests pandemic-related stress caused a rise in alcohol-related health problems for those who did not have any pre-existing issues and those who had already been dealing with alcohol use disorder.
Myran says increased availability to alcohol during the pandemic while other services were closed may have influenced people to drink more but new guidance on alcohol use could help some to consider their level of consumption due to evidence about an increase in cancer and heart disease with increased use.
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