UNM Hospital saw increase in alcohol-related illness during pandemic

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Many national studies and surveys have shown people drank more alcohol during the pandemic, and the health effects are also seen locally. A doctor at the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) told KRQE News 13 the increase it saw in alcohol-related liver disease in 2020 is concerning.

UNMH reports a 25% increase in the number of hospitalizations of patients with alcoholic hepatitis last year during the pandemic compared with the year before.

“What’s more concerning is that the age group that it’s mostly affected is patients between 25 and 45 years old,” Dr. Euriko Torrazza Perez said.

Perez points out that the risk factors of alcoholism include social isolation, unemployment, and depression. Many experienced some or all of those things as COVID-19 sparked business closures and stay-at-home orders in 2020.

Research company, NielsenIQ, reported last month that alcohol sales in the U.S. dropped for the first time since the pandemic started. Yet, it also found that retail sales of spirits, wine, and beer were still up 20% to 30% in March 2021 compared to March 2019. When it came to drinking alcohol, a study published in JAMA Network Open found the frequency of alcohol consumption increased by 14 percent from 2019 to 2020.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as more than four drinks a day or more than 14 a week for men and more than three drinks a day or more than seven a week for women. Drinking can cause alcoholic hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver; The condition can be deadly.

“For our patients that present with alcohol hepatitis, the mortality can range from 15 to 30 percent in just 30 days,” Dr. Torrazza Perez said.

He also explained that typically alcohol-related liver disease affects more men than women. For instance, the ratio of hospitalizations before the pandemic was 70% men and 30% women. However, Dr. Torrazza Perez said, early data shows a shift in 2020 where there was an increase in the number of women hospitalized, putting the ratio at 59% men and 41% women.

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