COVID-19 School of Medicine

Podcast: Pandemic fuels use of alcohol, opioids

Alcohol use disorder and opioid overdose were big problems long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. But both seem to have gotten worse during the pandemic. We hear from some experts on those subjects in this episode of "Show Me the Science." (Photo: Getty Images)

In this episode, we discuss issues that were problems long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19: alcohol use disorder and opioid overdose. Both seem to have gotten worse during the pandemic. Alcohol sales rose during the early days of lockdown, and they’ve remained high. Laura J. Bierut, MD, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Psychiatry, says another issue is that with some people losing their jobs while millions more have worked from home, some of the guardrails that have kept people from drinking too much have just gone away. She expects the fallout from the pandemic, in terms of alcohol use, will continue being felt for years to come.

And just as the pandemic has fueled alcohol problems, deaths from drug overdoses have continued to climb, with more than 107,000 overdose deaths reported in the U.S. during a recent 12-month period. One issue, according to Kevin Xu, MD, a resident in psychiatry and Evan S. Schwarz, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine and director of the Division of Medical Toxicology, is that many who use opioids are not prescribed a drug that can reduce cravings and lower risk of future overdose. That drug, buprenorphine, is prescribed for only about half of the patients treated for opioid use disorder, and it’s used even less frequently in people who use opioids along with other substances, such as cocaine, alcohol or methamphetamine.

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