September 2020 marks the 33rd annual Alcohol and Drug Addiction Awareness month, aimed toward increasing outreach and education regarding the dangers of alcoholism and issues related to alcohol and drug usage. Although its initial intent was to target college students newly introduced to these substances, it has been found that an estimated 14.4 million Americans ages 18 and older reported having an alcohol use disorder (AUD) according to a 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).1 From that, only about 7.9 percent of adults who had AUD received treatment.

The rate of alcohol and drug use is only rising as many are still struggling to cope with isolation, stress and the other impacts of COVID-19. Online alcohol sales reported a 243% increase just two weeks after the nationwide quarantine began.2 In a recent article published in Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, stated that persons who are isolated and stressed—as much of the population is during a pandemic—frequently turn to substances to alleviate their negative feelings. Additionally, those in recovery will face stresses and heightened urges to use substances and will be at a greater risk for relapse.3

This spike in alcohol sales and overall drinking across the nation has also increased the number of those participating in binge drinking. Studies show than one in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge. 4 A more in-depth look by NIAAA reveals binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men—in about two hours.1

Consistent events of binge drinking lead many to experience Interrupted Memories, or Alcohol-Induced Blackouts. Alcohol-Induced Blackouts are defined as gaps in a person’s memory for events that occurred while they were intoxicated which often happens when a person drinks enough alcohol (achieving a BAC of .16, two times the legal limit) to temporarily block the transfer of memories from short-term to long-term storage—known as memory consolidation—in a brain area called the hippocampus.5

More importantly, the use and overuse of alcohol and drugs can impact individuals differently. These individuals are known as “special populations” – people who face particular risks from drinking alcohol based on personal characteristics such as age or gender. Special populations also include certain ethnic and racial minorities who can experience more negative consequences of illness generally, and who may share certain drinking patterns.

Special populations include: persons 21 years or younger, college-age young adults, senior citizens, women, and ethnic and racial minorities.6

Another issue that has been especially pressing during COVID-19 is co-occurring disorders. These consist of problems that often affect people who also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. These can include psychiatric problems like anxiety or depression, abuse of other drugs, or other illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. 6

Now more than ever, it is crucial to spread awareness about the issues surrounding alcohol and drug addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, call the SAMHSA hotline at 1-800-662-4357 for around the clock assistance.


References:

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics 
  2. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-alcohol-sales-spike-during-coronavirus-outbreak-2020-04-01
  3. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-1212
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
  5. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/interrupted-memories-alcohol-induced-blackouts#:~:text=Alcohol%2Drelated%20blackouts%20are%20gaps,brain%20area%20called%20the%20hippocampus
  6. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders
By Wellbridge Healthcare