The FINANCIAL — Alcohol is known to be harmful to health in general, and is well understood to increase the risk of injury and violence, including intimate partner violence, and can cause alcohol poisoning. At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence. WHO/Europe reminds people that drinking alcohol does not protect them from COVID-19, and encourages governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption.
Busting myths on alcohol and COVID-19
As part of its public health response to COVID-19, WHO has worked with partners to develop a factsheet which addresses myths and provides guidance during the pandemic: “Alcohol and COVID-19: what you need to know”.
Fear and misinformation have generated a dangerous myth that consuming high-strength alcohol can kill the COVID-19 virus. It does not. Consuming any alcohol poses health risks, but consuming high-strength ethyl alcohol (ethanol), particularly if it has been adulterated with methanol, can result in severe health consequences, including death.
Alcohol consumption is associated with a range of communicable and noncommunicable diseases and mental health disorders, which can make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19. In particular, alcohol compromises the body’s immune system and increases the risk of adverse health outcomes. Therefore, people should minimize their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that is associated with mental disorders; people at risk or who have an alcohol-use disorder, are particularly vulnerable, especially when in self-isolation. Medical and treatment services need to be alert and ready to respond to any person in need.
Restricting alcohol access during the COVID-19 pandemic
Alcohol is responsible for 3 million deaths a year worldwide, a third of which occur in the WHO European Region. Not only is this the region with the highest alcohol intake and the highest prevalence of drinkers in the population, but it is also the region with the highest prevalence of alcohol use disorders in the population and the highest share of deaths caused by alcohol, among all deaths.
“Alcohol is consumed in excessive quantities in the European Region, and leaves too many victims. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we should really ask ourselves what risks we are taking in leaving people under lockdown in their homes with a substance that is harmful both in terms of their health and the effects of their behaviour on others, including violence,” says Carina Ferreira-Borges, Programme Manager, Alcohol and Illicit Drugs Programme, WHO/Europe.
Existing rules and regulations to protect health and reduce harm caused by alcohol, such as restricting access, should be upheld and even reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic and emergency situations; while any relaxation of regulations or their enforcement should be avoided.
This needs to be complemented by communicating with the public about the risks of alcohol consumption, and maintaining and strengthening alcohol and drug services.
Alcohol has effects, both short-term and long-term, on almost every single organ of your body. Overall, the evidence suggests that there is no “safe limit” –
in fact, the risk of damage to your health increases with each drink of alcohol consumed. Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces
the ability to cope with infectious diseases. Alcohol, even in very small quantities, is known to cause certain types of cancer. Alcohol alters your thoughts, judgement, decision-making and behaviour.
Alcohol, even in small amounts, is a risk to the unborn child at any time during pregnancy.
Alcohol increases the risk, frequency and severity of perpetration of interpersonal violence such as intimate partner violence, sexual violence, youth violence, elder
abuse, and violence against children.
Alcohol increases the risk of death and injury from road traffic injuries, drowning and falls.
Heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.
Bellow is the full list of recommendations by WHO.
Alcohol: what to do, and what not to do, during the COVID-19 pandemic
Avoid alcohol altogether so that you do not undermine your own immune system and health and do not risk the health of others.
Stay sober so that you can remain vigilant, act quickly and make decisions with a clear head, for yourself and others in your family and community.
If you drink, keep your drinking to a minimum and avoid getting intoxicated.
Avoid alcohol as a social cue for smoking, and vice versa: people tend to smoke, or smoke more, if they drink alcohol, and smoking is associated with more complicated and dangerous progression of COVID-19. Remember, too, that indoor smoking is harmful to others in your household and should be avoided.
Make sure that children and young people do not have access to alcohol and do not let them see you consume alcohol – be a role model.
Alcohol and home isolation or quarantine
To limit the spread of COVID-19, countries have progressively introduced community-wide lockdowns and periods of quarantine for those who are suspected of having contracted the
virus or have been in contact with someone infected by the virus. This means that an unprecedented number of people are now staying in their homes.
It is important to understand that alcohol poses risks to your health and safety and should therefore be avoided during periods of home isolation or quarantine.
When working from home, adhere to your usual workplace rules and do not drink.
Remember that after a lunch break you should still be in a fit state to work – and that is not possible if you are under the influence of alcohol.
Alcohol is not a necessary part of your diet and should not be a priority on your shopping list. Avoid stockpiling alcohol at home, as this will potentially increase your alcohol consumption and the consumption of others in your household.
Your time, money and other resources are better invested in buying healthy and nutritious food that will maintain good health and enhance your immune system response. For further ideas, take a look at the food and nutrition tips during selfquarantine issued by WHO.
You might think that alcohol helps you to cope with stress, but it is not in fact a good coping mechanism, as it is known to increase the symptoms of panic and
anxiety disorders, depression and other mental disorders, and the risk of family and domestic violence.
Instead of consuming alcohol to pass your time at home, try an indoor workout.
Physical activity strengthens the immune system and overall – from both a shortterm and a long-term perspective – is a highly beneficial way of spending a period
Do not introduce your children or other young people to drinking and do not get intoxicated in front of them. Child abuse and neglect can be aggravated by alcohol
consumption, especially in crowded housing situations where isolation from the drinker is not possible.
Disinfectant alcohol can easily become accessible for consumption purposes in home isolation. It is important, therefore, to keep such products out of the reach of
children and underage drinkers and others who may misuse them.
Alcohol use can increase during self-isolation and both, isolation and drinking, may also increase the risk of suicide, so reducing your alcohol consumption is very
important. If you have suicidal thoughts, you should call your local or national health hotlines
Alcohol is closely associated with violence, including intimate partner violence.
Men perpetrate most of the violence against women, which is worsened by their alcohol consumption, while women experiencing violence are likely to increase their alcohol use as a coping mechanism. If you are a victim of violence and are confined with the perpetrator in home isolation, you need a safety plan in case the situation escalates. This includes having a neighbour, friend, relative or shelter to go to in the event that you need to leave the house immediately. Try to reach out to supportive family members and/or friends and seek support from a hotline or local services for survivors. If you are under quarantine and need to leave the house immediately, call a local support hotline and reach out to someone you trust