Alcohol-related illness increases in Alberta since the start of the pandemic

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Alcohol-related illness increases in Alberta since the start of the pandemic
Alberta has seen an increase in alcohol-related illnesses that can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, medical experts say patients with alcoholic hepatitis are getting younger. – Jan 23, 2022

Increasing alcohol consumption is leading to serious liver problems for some Albertans.

There’s been an increase in a condition called alcoholic hepatitis that began at the start of the pandemic.

“This condition is serious. Around seven or eight per cent of the people die in hospital,” said Dr. Abdel-Aziz Shaheen with the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

He is the lead author of a study that showed that hospitalizations for alcoholic hepatitis rose dramatically during the first wave of the pandemic, which was published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

“We were surprised by the number of cases that we saw, almost double the rates before the pandemic.  During those first six months, around nine per cent of every month increased in the hospitalization,” Shaheen said

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He said the research covered the period between March to September of 2020, which also coincided with higher liquor sales.

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Another finding was the change in the patients being treated.

“We found they are younger, mainly living in rural areas and they are getting sicker,” Shaheed said

Shaheen said in the second wave he continued to see patients coming in with significant liver damage.

“Some of them required ICU admission and, unfortunately, some of them don’t make it. When they are admitted, they are not admitted for a short period of time. The average length of admission is around two weeks,” Shaheen said.

Emergency room visits related to alcohol use increased by 20 per cent in the fall of 2020 according to Dr. Eddy Lang.

An article co-written by Dr. Lang showed that alcohol use went from being the fifth highest cause of hospitalization in Alberta to the third during the first half year of the pandemic.

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“Alcohol is like putting fuel on the mental health illness fire,” said Lang, the department head of emergency medicine for the Calgary zone.

“Patients who suffer from anxiety and depression and other mental health illnesses will often turn to alcohol or other substances such as cannabis to self medicate and that’s almost invariably a bad thing because the alcohol impairs judgement and there’s almost always going to be more negative consequences from alcohol use in the context of mental illness then there will be benefits.”

Data is currently being collected regarding the fourth wave of the pandemic and is expected to be released early in 2022.

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