NEW HAMPSHIRE has made some gains in recent years in our battle against the ongoing addiction crisis. But, without an end in sight, the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to undo that hard-fought progress and put more lives in jeopardy.
The pandemic’s impact can be clearly seen in rising alcohol sales across the Granite State. Since the start of the pandemic, alcohol sales have increased about 5% compared to 2019, according to the New Hampshire Liquor Commission. Although some of these increases could have been attributed to initial stockpiling and out-of-state sales, this trend mirrors national data, which shows dramatic increases all across the country. As stay-at-home orders began in some states as a mitigation strategy for coronavirus disease transmission, Nielsen reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with one year before; online sales increased 262% from 2019.
A new study shows that American adults, particularly women, are drinking more amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a September JAMA Network Open article, alcohol consumption has increased by 14% compared with a year ago, including 17% for women. The study also showed a 41% increase in heavy drinking for women. Heavy drinking is defined as four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours and five or more for men.
Now more than ever it is critical to be aware of the consequences of excessive or binge drinking and to prioritize healthy behaviors. Excessive alcohol consumption can compromise a person’s immune system and increase the risk for respiratory illnesses and other conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive alcohol use can make it harder for the body to resist disease. Just this week, the American Public Health Association called for a population-based response to news of doubling of alcohol mortality rates in the United States.
The increasing rate of alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic has both immediate negative health risks as well as delayed longer-term risks, such as addiction. We know addiction is a disease that progresses and, from past catastrophic events, we also know an increase in demand for treatment and recovery services is imminent.
Furthermore, long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from diseases. Social determinants of health have historically prevented many from having fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health. Social determinants of health can influence both alcohol consumption patterns and resultant levels of harm. Understanding the complex relationship between social determinants or drivers of health and substance use disorders is critically important for identifying and developing effective interventions.
New Futures and the New Hampshire Public Health Association seek to promote public health policies that advance health equity; the idea is that everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible, including behavioral health.
As we approach the next round of state budget negotiations, we call on policymakers to ensure revenues from addictive products are directed to prevention, treatment, and recovery services in preparation for a surge in demand for addiction services and to ensure equity for those historically disadvantaged in our public health system.
These critical strategies and investments will help Granite State communities support their friends and neighbors in need now and to prevent further substance misuse in the future. The health of our state depends on it.