It’s no secret that alcohol consumption has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study of 6,000 Americans conducted by the Rand Corporation’s American Life Panel and published on JAMA Network Open last year, binge drinking has been significantly on the rise since the onset of COVID-related lockdowns, especially among female respondents. Another survey, conducted by Blue Cross Blue Shield, found that alcohol consumption overall—not just binge-drinking—spiked by 23 percent in the first few months of the pandemic. Additionally, a survey by The Recovery Village, updated in December of last year, found that 55 percent of respondents reported an increase of alcohol consumption in the prior month, with 18 percent reporting a significant increase. “In the states hit hardest by the coronavirus (NY, NJ, MA, RI, CT), 67 percent reported an increase in past-month alcohol use,” the report notes.
As more evidence mounts that widespread alcohol use is on the rise, it’s important to note the potential health consequences for people who are drinking more. “In addition to a range of negative physical health associations, excessive alcohol use may lead to or worsen existing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, which may themselves be increasing during COVID-19,” noted the researchers at the Rand Corporation.
As we’ve reported, the dangerous side effects of drinking alcohol every day are numerous and include a greater risk of heart disease, a greater risk of infertility, osteoporosis, liver damage, and prolong slurred speech. But according to a recent study published in journal The Lancet, there’s an even bigger side effect any heavy drinker should be mindful of every time they’re fixing a cocktail at home or sidling up to a bar: You could be shortening your life by years.
The study drew on data of roughly 600,000 alcohol drinkers and monitored their health over a period of time. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that drinking more alcohol was linked to a greater risk of heart failure, stroke, aneurysms, and even death—regardless of the gender of the person drinking. According to their calculations: Adults who drink seven to 14 drinks per week may be shortening their lives by six months, adults who drink 14 to 15 drinks per week may be shortening their lives by one to two years, and heavier drinkers who consume in excess of 25 drinks every week may be shortening their lifespans by four to five years.
For what it’s worth, scientists have long known that light drinking, defined as one to three drinks per week, can be healthy and actually have benefits. A study published in PLOS Medicine found that those who adhered to those aforementioned guidelines actually had a lower cancer or death risk than people who actually had one drink per week or didn’t drink at all. That being said, the study authors of The Lancet study noted succinctly: “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”
If you’re finding that your drinking habits are out of control, it could be time to seek out professional help. One of the best ways to find out, according to doctors, is to simply try to stop and gauge your success. “Don’t drink for a month,” advises Robert Doyle, MD, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the book Almost Alcoholic. “If that’s hard for you, then maybe it’s a problem. Or ask the people around you what they think. If it’s causing them distress, then it’s a significant problem.” And no matter how much you’re drinking, make sure you avoid The Most Dangerous Alcoholic Drink for Your Body, According to Experts.