Drinking can raise chances of COVID-19

By Nicki Bourlioufas

The World Health Organisation has recently produced a factsheet on alcohol consumption and COVID-19, which provides a sobering reminder to us all not to drink too much notwithstanding how bad things may seem.

The factsheet addresses, among other things, the misinformation that is being spread through social media and other channels about alcohol and COVID-19.

The WHO says the most important point to remember: in no way will consumption of alcohol protect you from COVID-19 or prevent you from being infected by it.

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Surely, we knew that already? Perhaps not. Deaths related to the ingestion of alcoholic products such as such as hand disinfectant in the mistaken belief that they will offer protection against the virus have already occurred in some countries during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the WHO.

What we may not know either is that alcohol consumption can in fact raise your chances of catching COVID-19 as it weakens your body’s ability to fight infections. It can boost the risk of serious complications as it lowers your immunity to disease.

Here some important things to know.

  • Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.
  • Heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.
  • Alcohol may also increase the risk of and pneumonia, which is sometimes associated with COVID-19, according to the US centre for Disease Control (CDC).
  • Consuming alcohol will not destroy the COVID-19 virus, and its consumption is likely to increase the health risks if a person becomes infected with the virus.
  • Alcohol (at a concentration of at least 60% by volume) works as a disinfectant on your skin, but it has no such effect within your system when ingested.
  • Consumption of alcohol will not kill the virus in the inhaled air; it will not disinfect your mouth and throat; and it will not give you any kind of protection against COVID-19.
  • People with an alcohol use disorder are at greater risk of COVID-19 not only because of the impact of alcohol on their health but also because they are more likely to experience homelessness or incarceration than other members of the population.

The WHO recommends we all stop drinking during the pandemic. “Avoid alcohol altogether,” it suggests, “so that you do not undermine your own immune system and health and do not risk the health of others.”

While that is the safest thing to do, the WHO is realistic and identifies that some of us will continue to drink alcoholic drinks. Life won’t stop for this disease, even if we are in lockdown.

So, some sensible advice during quarantine or lockdown:

  • Avoid stockpiling alcohol at home, as this will potentially increase your alcohol consumption.
  • When working from home, adhere to your usual workplace rules and do not drink. Remember that after a lunch break you should still be in a fit state to work.
  • Instead of consuming alcohol to pass your time at home, try an indoor workout. Physical activity strengthens the immune system.
  • Stay sober so that you can remain vigilant, act quickly and make decisions with a clear head, for yourself and others in your family and community.
  • You might think that alcohol helps you to cope with stress, but it is not in fact a good coping mechanism, as it is known to increase the symptoms of panic and anxiety disorders, depression and other mental disorders, and the risk of family and domestic violence.

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