Pandemic leads to concerning increase in drinking

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 29, 2022

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GROSSE POINTES — Whether it’s beer at a backyard barbecue or boozing while boating, for many, summer and alcohol are inseparable.

Unfortunately, for too many people, the pandemic has led to a spike in drinking and alcohol-related health problems.

In the Grosse Pointe area, Dr. Asha Shajahan, medical director of community health at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, is seeing a concerning increase in the number of patients who are drinking too much.

“These are people I’m seeing who never had a drinking problem before,” Shajahan said.

It’s something medical professionals are trying to raise awareness of because it’s associated with a laundry list of health problems.

A recent survey of nearly 5,000 drinkers by found that 1 in 5 drinkers in Michigan said they personally identified with at least one sign of alcoholism. Nationwide, the average was 13%.

“People were turning to alcohol during the pandemic to deal with loneliness and boredom and grief,” Shajahan said.

Now, as more people find themselves returning to their offices, she said they’re finding it hard not to drink.

“Drinking alcohol is such a big part of our culture,” Shajahan said. “People don’t think of it as bad … but too much alcohol can damage your body and lead to addiction.”

A national study of U.S. adults led by Massachusetts General Hospital, published in December 2021 by the journal Hepatology, determined that the one-year increase in alcohol consumption will result in 8,000 additional deaths in the United States from alcohol-related liver disease, as well as 18,700 cases of liver failure and 1,000 cases of liver cancer, by 2040. Weekly alcohol sales were found to have risen by as much as 400%, an increase sustained over multiple weeks, according to the study.

“While we have projected the expected impact of societal drinking changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic without any interventions, we hope that our research can help jumpstart needed conversations at every level of society about how we can respond to the many behavioral changes, coping mechanisms, and choices that have short- and long-term implications for the health of individuals, families and communities in America,” lead study author Jovan Julien, MS, a data analyst at the MGH Institute for Technology Assessment and a Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a press release.

Drinking can lead to elevated blood pressure, elevated liver enzymes, and worsening anxiety and depression, among other health problems, Shajahan said.

A survey this spring by found that the average Michigander was willing to gain 12 pounds in order to keep drinking alcohol. Surprising, too, was the fact that many of those surveyed didn’t realize that calories from alcoholic beverages were the same as calories from food. For example, noted that a single beer contains almost as many calories as a large slice of pizza.

The increase in alcohol consumption is showing up in different demographics.

“I’m seeing a lot more younger women having five to six drinks a day,” said Shajahan, saying that she’s seeing this spike in women in their 30s and 40s.

More than one drink a day for women, or two a day for men, may not mean someone is an alcoholic, but “it is damaging your body,” said Shajahan, who encourages anyone in this category to try to reduce their alcohol consumption.

The uptick in alcohol consumption is something that’s becoming more visible, as people who’ve developed problematic drinking habits are now leaving home more frequently.

“There was a lot more drinking going on over the last two years,” Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Director John Hutchins said.

People don’t seem to be shy about their drinking. A study conducted this spring by Apricot Content determined that Grosse Pointe Park ranked fourth in Michigan for the most alcohol-related social media posts during the pandemic. Grosse Pointe Woods ranked 16th. Harper Woods came in 50th on the list of just over 100 Michigan cities.

People who are having trouble reducing their alcohol consumption should talk to their primary care doctor first, Shajahan said. She said there are also sources of help and information that are only a click away, including the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at or (800) 662-HELP (4357).

“There’s plenty of resources available, if you want the help,” Shajahan said.

She said a trusted religious or community leader can also direct someone to local resources.

“We’ve lived through a pandemic that’s been very difficult for all of us,” Shajahan said. “Alcohol is a poor coping mechanism for anything.”

Better options to deal with pandemic-related stress include counseling, exercise, meditation, therapy or talking to a friend, she said.