THE pandemic and social isolation had consequences for physical and mental health. One of them was the increase in the consumption of alcoholic beverages. According to a survey carried out by the independent public health organization Vital Strategies, there was an increase in Brazil of 18.4% of deaths caused by the excessive use of beverages, compared to 2020 with 2019. This is the highest rate of deaths related to the alcohol of the decade.
The research used as a database the deaths registered by SIM (Mortality Information Systems), official system of the Ministry of Health, caused by the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) of mental and behavioral disorders due to alcohol use, from 2010 to 2020.
For Luciana Vasconcelos Sardinha, the organization’s technical advisor for Epidemiology and Public Health, the consequences of excessive consumption may be even greater. “We have the records of the basic causes of death. There is a list of ICD, which present diseases directly related to alcohol, but it is still a small part of the reality sample. We still have the issue of violence, traffic accidents, which we have the alcoholemia as responsible,” says Luciana.
The country showed a downward trend in the decade, the maximum increase identified had been in 2011 compared to 2010, when the increase was 3.9%. The researchers noted that the increase in deaths started in April 2020, a month after the most restrictive measures of social distancing came into force in Brazil.
“We evaluated since 2010, we had a downward trend in Brazil, but between March and December of last year there was a large increase. There are some hypotheses for aggravation. In March, there was a determination to stay at home. Those patients who had any chronic disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, they decompensated, either due to the lack of care, treatment or because they stopped doing physical activities, the diet was different too. Then came the increase in drinking and there was a general deregulation”, explains the analyst.
The Northeast region showed the greatest percentage change in crude mortality rates (which means the risk of death per 100,000 inhabitants) from alcohol in 2020 compared to 2019, with an increase of 31%. Followed by the Southeast region, 18.2%.
Data show that the highest incidence of abuse occurs in people between 18 and 40 years, which demonstrates a significant economic impact. “As it affects the economically active population more, the economic impact is very large. When alcohol consumption increases, it may not lead to death, but absenteeism has increased [ausência no trabalho], early retirement, accidents, violence. It is worth noting that it is not just the disease that aggravates it”, warns Luciana.
In addition, in cases of accidents and violence, the person represents a much greater expense to public health, he emphasizes. “The cost of this is directly related to work and social impact.”
How to lessen the effects of alcohol?
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), alcohol is one of the main causes of death and disability worldwide. There are 3 million deaths per year, which represents one person every 10 seconds.
The data suggest that the covid-19 pandemic intensified these impacts, as the sale of beverages in Brazil grew, according to Ideal Consulting, an audit specialized in the sale and import of alcoholic beverages.
Luciana points out social acceptance as one of the difficulties in combating the problem. “Alcohol is socially accepted. For example, if we see a person smoking, we immediately think: ‘why does she smoke, it’s so bad?’. Alcohol doesn’t happen that way, everyone understands that it’s normal,” she laments.
Vital Strategies points out that the government can act by increasing taxes on beverages, restricting places for sale and inspecting existing laws to hinder access to products.
“Based on experience in other countries, the first is to restrict availability and increase prices. When we increase, we have less access. This thing of selling alcohol anywhere, like gas stations, is not good. We have many laws in Brazil, but no we have the correct inspection. For example, there is a law that cannot sell alcohol to children under 18 and not drive after drinking, but they are not inspected”, observes the researcher.
“The prohibition and restriction of alcohol advertising is also important. Mainly to reach the younger population,” she adds.
Luciana recalls that, from the moment the person is already ill, care must be available. “The person needs to have easier access to treatment. To have heavy awareness and communication work, explaining that this is a problem. It is important to give access for people to be treated, especially in primary care, in basic units, which are the gateways to the health system”, she concludes.