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ChristianaCare study shows spike in alcohol withdrawal during COVID lockdowns

Delaware Public Media

A new local study links last year’s COVID lockdown with a dramatic increase in alcohol abuse.

A reportreleased by ChristianaCare Wednesday tracked the rate of alcohol withdrawal among patients admitted to the health system’s Christiana and Wilmington hospitals during that time.

It found that rate increased by 34 percent between the start of Gov. John Carney’s lockdown order on March 25 and Sept. 22 of last year.

The largest incidence was an 84 percent increase during the last two weeks of the stay at home order in May.

ChristianaCare Chief of Addiction Medicine Dr. Terry Horton says alcohol withdrawal had been fairly consistent in Delaware in recent years leading up to the lockdowns and he notes the severity of the condition.

“When someone develops an alcohol use disorder and they start to drink alcohol in excess the brain changes, and if for whatever reason they stop using alcohol, they can develop a series of symptoms that have a 5 percent mortality rate associated with them,” said Horton.  

Alcohol withdrawal causes delirium tremens which can include confusion, seizures and hallucinations, and Horton says it often complicates treatment for other medical issues.       

Horton also says the problem is compounded by a lack of resources during the lockdowns.

“If those [at risk] individuals start to drink, the typical and classic supports for them are no longer as readily available—drug treatment, [Narcotics Anonymous], [Alcoholics Anonymous],” he said. “Many of these supports have had to go onto virtual platforms.”         

The study is a retrospective analysis of the past three years. It’s 2020 analysis included 340 patients diagnosed with alcohol withdrawal before Delaware’s stay-at home order, 231 during the order and 507 afterwards.

ChristianaCare began screening for alcohol withdrawal in 2008.

Delaware health officials say the state likely saw its highest rate of overdose deaths last year as well, though the state Division of Forensic Science has yet to release its annual report.

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