Drinking increases substantially during pandemic, alarming rise among women

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The pandemic has changed the way in which we live in many ways. One alarming side effect, more people are drinking heavily.

Heavy drinking has been on the rise over the past several years according to the Journal of the American Medical Association or JAMA Network.

“I think the pandemic pressed the accelerator,” said Secretary Jen Smith, Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Programs.

As of September 2020, the overall frequency of alcohol consumption increased by about 14% from the previous year, according to the JAMA Network.

“I think we’ve seen some of that playing out in Pennsylvania,” said Secretary Smith.

There was a noticeable uptick when Pennsylvania liquor stores started to reopen, after being closed in the pandemic’s early days.

“We just saw huge increases in the volumes of people seeking out those substances, some because they had a substance use disorder and others because they were using those substances to cope with some of the anxiety, depression, stress that was setting in as a result of the pandemic,” said Secretary Smith.

And for women, the numbers are even more alarming. Women increased their heavy drinking days by 41% compared to before the pandemic, according to a RAND Corporation study.

“I would say that women have born the brunt of a lot of the challenges with this pandemic in balancing work and child care, also taking care of parents,” said Dr. Sarah Kawasaki, Director of Addiction Services at Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute.

Secretary Smith agrees.

“Now these children are more exposed to that heavy drinking than they were before,” said Secretary Smith.

She adds. “Some of the raw data that I have, does show a pretty significant increase in the percentage of admissions specifically related to alcohol.”

In 2019, alcohol was reported as the primary substance in about 29 percent of rehab admissions in Pennsylvania, in under or uninsured people.

The state is still crunching the numbers for 2020, but they already look higher and could keep climbing. It’s something that’s playing out here in the Midstate for hospital admissions.

“I will say that at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, the increase in alcohol use and alcohol related hospitalizations has been tremendous,” said Dr. Kawasaki.

The state says it should be able to allocate $55 million very soon from the federal government for drug and alcohol prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery to be used over the next two years. On top of that, the state should also be getting an additional $47.5 million over the next four years.

“Really heavily investing in recovery supports, so as we see more and more people receiving treatment and achieving recovery, that population of people in recovery in Pennsylvania is just really expanding and right now, we don’t have services in the way that we need to,” said Secretary Smith.

Officials say, there should be no shame in seeking help for an addiction if you need it. In fact, they say it’s courageous and could very easily save your life.

The state has a 24/7 hotline for drug and alcohol treatment at 1-800-662-HELP.

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