Washington, DC, (PAHO/WHO) - At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence. PAHO/WHO reminds people that drinking alcohol does not protect them from COVID-19 and encourages governments to limit alcohol consumption during the pandemic.
Dispelling myths on alcohol and COVID-19
Alcohol is known to be harmful to health in general, and well understood to increase the risk of violence, including intimate partner violence, injury and alcohol poisoning. As part of its public health response to COVID-19, PAHO has worked with partners, such as the WHO Regional Office for Europe, to develop guidance, 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, noncommunicable and mental health disorders, which can render a person vulnerable to a number of diseases including 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 all times, 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, watchful and ready to respond to any person in need.
Restricting alcohol access during COVID-19 pandemic
Alcohol is responsible for a total of three million deaths worldwide. Of the six WHO regions, the Region of the Americas has the highest prevalence of drinkers and the second highest alcohol intake in the population. Furthermore, it is also the region with the highest prevalence of alcohol use disorders among women in the population and the second highest among men. Alcohol kills over 300,000 yearly in the Americas.
“There is absolutely no doubt that alcohol is a harmful substance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we must prevent harms to people confined to their homes with access to alcohol in quantities that will be harmful both for their health and that of others in the household, who might also be subject to violence.” says Maristela Monteiro, Senior Advisor on Alcohol at PAHO.
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. In the interest of the public health, there must not be any relaxation of regulations or their enforcement.
This needs to be complemented by communicating with the public about the risks of alcohol consumption and maintaining and strengthening services for alcohol and drug use.