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Climate Change's Hotter Days Could Bring More Alcohol, Drug Crises
  • Posted September 26, 2023

Climate Change's Hotter Days Could Bring More Alcohol, Drug Crises

Sweltering temperatures appear to fuel drug-related hospital visits, a problem that could be worsening with climate change, a new study suggests.

"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 first study author Robbie Parks. He is an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City.

The study noted an increasing trend of heavy episodic drinking and alcohol-related deaths and disease in the United States, especially in middle-aged and older adults, in recent decades. Meanwhile, drug overdose deaths have grown by more than five times in the past two decades.

For this study, the investigators looked at the relationship between temperature and hospital visits related to alcohol and other drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, opioids and sedatives. They used data from more than 670,000 alcohol- and more than 720,000 substance-related disorder hospital visits over 20 years in New York. They also included a comprehensive record of daily temperatures and relative humidity, and used a statistical model which compared days with high temperatures with nearby days with lower temperatures.

The higher the temperatures, the more hospital visits for alcohol-related disorders happened.

This may potentially be driven by more time outdoors performing riskier activities, greater perspiration causing dehydration or driving while under the influence.

Higher temperatures also resulted in more hospital visits for cannabis, cocaine, opioids and sedatives, but only up to a limit of 65.8 degrees Fahrenheit. This cap could be because above a certain temperature people are not more likely to go outside, the study authors suggested.

The study may actually underestimate the link between rising temperature and substance use disorders, the authors noted, because the most severe disorders may have resulted in deaths before a hospital visit could happen.

These researchers would like to link cases of deaths with hospital visit records to create a fuller picture of patients' medical history.

Future research could include examining the role of existing health conditions exacerbated by alcohol and/or substance use combined with rising temperatures.

Interventions could include awareness campaigns about the risks of warming temperatures on substance use. Public policy could include providing more assistance to communities vulnerable to substance use during periods of warm weather.

The findings were published Sept. 26 in the journal Communications Medicine. The study was supported by grants from the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"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,"senior study author Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia, said in a school news release.

More information

The United Nations has more on climate change.

SOURCE: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, news release, Sept. 26, 2023

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