By James Gamble
Global warming and rising temperatures could soon turn us all into drunkards and druggies, scientists have warned.
Researchers showed there was a higher rate of hospital admissions for drugs and alcohol abuse across New York State during periods of high temperatures.
The American study, published in the journal Communications Medicine, is believed to be the first to ever study the links between substance abuse and temperature.
The researchers concluded their study by warning of the dangers of drinking alcohol and taking drugs during warm weather – saying health warnings against it should be “a public health priority.”
In recent decades, there has been an increasing trend of episodic drinking and alcohol-related deaths in the United States – particularly in middle-aged people and older adults.
Drug overdose deaths have also increased by more than five times since the turn of the last century.
To measure the connections between alcohol and other drugs – such as cannabis, cocaine, opioids and sedatives – and high temperatures, researchers from Columbia University in New York examined the correlation between substance-related hospital admissions and heat.
The team analyzed data from 671,625 alcohol and 721,469 drug-related disorder hospital visits in New York State over a period of 20 years.
Alongside this, they consulted a comprehensive record of daily temperatures and relative humidity.
In doing so, the Columbia researchers created a statistical model comparing days with high temperatures with nearby days with lower temperatures to understand the impact of short-term climate-related phenomena such as heatwaves.
They discovered that, the higher the temperatures, the more hospital visits there were for alcohol-related disorders.
The researchers suggested this could be linked to people spending more time outdoors, people performing riskier activities heightened sweating causing greater dehydration, people wanting to consume more due to the pleasant weather and even drunk driving.
In drug disorders, the study team found higher temperatures equally resulted in more hospital visits – but only up to a limit of 18.8°C (65.8°F).
This limit, the scientists said, could happen because people are more likely to venture outside after a certain temperature is reached.
They suggested future research could also explore the role of existing health conditions that might exacerbate alcohol and or substance use combined with the rising temperatures.
Dr. Robbie Parks, the study’s first author and an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, explained that the results highlight an impact of global warming that isn’t as obvious as others.
“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,” he said.
Dr. Parks and his team also noted that their study may even underestimate the link between rising temperatures and substance use disorders – as the most severe disorders may result in death before a hospital visit is possible.
In future studies, the researchers may attempt to link cases of deaths with hospital visit records in order to create a fuller picture of patients’ medical history.
In the meantime, the study’s authors encourage public health officials to pursue interventions such as awareness campaigns on the risks of substance use in high temperatures.
The study team suggests their research could help to inform future policies on proactively assisting communities vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse during periods of elevated temperatures.
Senior author Dr. Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Public Health, added that policies tackling this issue should be made a “priority.”
She said: “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.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker