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Alcohol-related hospitalizations in Alberta nearly doubled during 1st COVID-19 wave: study

A study from the University of Calgary finds the number of Albertans hospitalized for an alcohol-related liver disease almost doubled during the first wave of the pandemic. The Canadian Press

A study from the University of Calgary finds the number of Albertans hospitalized for an alcohol-related liver disease almost doubled during the first wave of the pandemic.

Dr. Abdel-Aziz Shaheen, an assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine, says patients admitted for alcoholic hepatitis were also younger, with an average age of 43, compared to 48 before the pandemic.

Read more: Boredom, stress during pandemic behind rise in alcohol, cannabis use for some Canadians: survey

The U of C study found hospitalization rates for the condition — which is inflammation of the liver as a result of excessive drinking — increased to 22.1 per 10,000 admissions, up from 11.6 per 10,000 admissions before the pandemic.

The condition can be reversed if caught early but, in serious circumstances, can lead to end-stage liver disease, liver transplants and death.

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The study compared data on all adult Alberta-based patients admitted to hospital between March 2020 and September 2020, to data on admissions between March 2018 and February 2020.

Shaheen says physicians from England, France and the United States have reported similar trends.

“There could have been even higher hospitalization numbers, but due to the restrictions in place during the first wave of COVID-19, people suffering from alcoholic hepatitis may have chosen not to go to the hospital,” Shaheen said Thursday in a release.

“This is like an iceberg; we’re only seeing the tip of it — the very sick people. The biggest problem is if you are drinking and you exceed the recommendations, you are causing damage.”

Read more: Alcohol use linked to 7,000 new cancer cases in Canada in 2020, study shows

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A poll conducted last year by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions found about 25 per cent of Canadians aged 35 to 54 increased their alcohol consumption during the first few months of the pandemic for reasons including boredom and stress.

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