Rising Temperatures And Alcohol-Related Hospitalizations
Author: Zachary Pottle | Published:
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Study Finds Higher Temperatures Linked To More Alcohol-Related Hospital Admissions
For many people, summertime brings with it more time outdoors, spending time with family and friends, and the occasional alcoholic beverage. However, new research suggests that rising temperatures caused by global climate change may even be affecting alcohol consumption habits. The study, which is the first of its kind, was conducted by Columbia University and found that during higher temperatures, hospitals see a larger number of both drug and alcohol-related admissions.
“We saw that during periods of higher temperatures, there was a corresponding increase in hospital visits related to alcohol and substance use, which also brings attention to some less obvious potential consequences of climate change,” said study first author Dr. Robbie M. Parks.
With 2023 on record to be the hottest year ever recorded, experts worry that as the planet continues to warm, it could also significantly increase the consequences of drug and alcohol addiction.
How Climate Change May Be Affecting Substance Abuse
To examine how exactly climate change and alcohol addiction are related, researchers examined data from 671,625 alcohol- and 721,469 substance-related disorder hospital visits across New York State over 20 years, as well as daily temperatures and relative humidity over that time period. They then compared the lowest temperature recorded and the 75th percentile temperature and found a nearly 25% increase in “alcohol disorder-related hospitalizations.”
“For substance-related disorders, we find evidence of a positive association at temperatures from the daily minimum to the 50th percentile, but not at higher temperatures,” the authors write.
But why exactly is this happening? The answer, according to researchers, is several “behavioral or psychological reasons” related to climate change. First, experts speculate that as temperatures decrease, people are less likely to go to the hospital, as they may not have access due to inclement weather. Researchers also stated that people spend more time drinking outside when temperatures are higher, which can increase the risk of dehydration.
Other Climate Factors Affecting Addiction
Along with data from Columbia University, previous research has also shed light on the potentially harmful effects of rising temperatures, specifically how they increase the risk for alcohol addiction.
Climate change and extreme weather events can have a profound effect on a person’s health and well-being. During events like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires, all of which are occurring more frequently due to rising temperatures, can cause extensive damage to communities. Whether it be a flooded house or displacement caused by a wildfire, natural disasters can be an extreme source of psychological stress.
Numerous studies, such as one published by The New York Academy of Sciences, show that exposure to stress can significantly increase substance abuse and the likelihood of relapse, both of which can be fatal. As temperatures continue to rise and extreme weather events become more common, more people will be affected by the stress caused by their aftermath.
Increased Mental Health Problems
With the stress of natural disasters comes an increase in mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Weather-related stress is not a new phenomenon; however, with temperatures on the rise, experts say so too are mental health conditions.
Studies show that rates of mental illness are likely to increase following climate stressors like natural disasters. Additionally, it has long been known that mental health disorders and addiction are linked, with studies showing nearly 50% of people with a mental health condition also have a substance use disorder.
Increased Risk Of Physical Health Conditions
Warmer temperatures have long been known to bring with them an increase in the risk of physical health burdens. These burdens can include things like injuries from extreme weather events, heat stroke, infectious diseases like malaria, wildfire smoke exposure, and dehydration.
It’s important to be aware of the physical burden climate change can have, as people who struggle with chronic health problems or disabilities often have higher rates of drug and alcohol addiction, which may be a way to “self-medicate” or cope with their pain.
Changes To Established Behavioral Problems
While major catastrophic events like hurricanes or wildfires can alter a person’s life dramatically, the gradual increase in temperature and day-to-day effects of climate change can still have a profound effect. Studies show that warmer temperatures can affect sleep patterns, which can lead to a higher risk for mental health conditions and addiction. Additionally, increased time spent outdoors as a result of higher temperatures may also lead to increased alcohol consumption.
What Can Be Done?
As global temperatures continue to rise, focusing on solutions to the less obvious effects of climate change is increasingly important. Researchers noted that they likely underestimated the link between temperature change and alcohol addiction, as “the most severe cases may have resulted in death before a hospital visit.”
“Our findings suggest that rising temperatures, including those caused by climate change, may influence hospital visits for alcohol and other drugs, emphasizing the need for appropriate and proportionate social and health interventions, as well as highlighting potential hidden burdens of climate change,” wrote the researchers.
Public health officials and scientists urgently need to spearhead initiatives, such as public awareness campaigns, to inform communities about the impact of rising temperatures on substance abuse.
“Public health interventions that broadly target alcohol and substance disorders in warmer weather – for example, targeted messaging on the risks of their consumption during warmer weather – should be a public health priority,” said study senior author Dr. Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou.
Take Control Of Your Alcohol Addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, finding help can feel like an uphill battle. While climate change may have lasting implications on the prevalence of alcohol addiction, it doesn’t mean getting treatment is impossible. To start your journey toward a healthier, alcohol-free life, contact a treatment provider to learn more about your options.
Author: Zachary Pottle | Last Edited: October 11, 2023