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Aaron White NIAAA

K6. Dr Aaron White – Alcohol and health: State of the science and impact of COVID-19

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Alcohol and health: State of the science and the impact of COVID-19


Alcohol is a simple molecule with complex effects on personal
and public health. In the United States, alcohol consumption
and related harms, including emergency department visits
and hospitalizations, have increased among adults since the
turn of the new millennium, particularly for women. Alcohol
also plays prominent roles in “deaths of despair” – deaths from
overdoses, liver cirrhosis and suicide. Deaths of despair often
are associated with declining quality of life and loss of hope.
Increases in these deaths were initially observed among
middle-aged non-Hispanic white Americans beginning in the
late 1990s but are now increasing for men and women across
racial and ethnic groups. Limited available evidence suggests
that some people are drinking more during the COVID-19
pandemic to cope with stress. Drinking to cope with stress
is a maladaptive strategy that tends to worsen affect and
increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder
(AUD). Given the role that stress commonly plays in relapse
combined with shifting options for treatment and recovery
support during the pandemic, it is reasonable to expect this is
a challenging time for people with AUD. Because of its impact
on immune function and social behavior, alcohol also could
increase the risk of transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19
and worsen the prognosis of the disease. In this presentation,
we will explore recent changes in alcohol use and related
harms in the United States including deaths of despair,
examine new findings regarding alcohol and women’s health,
discuss disparities in treatment, and review available data on
interactions between alcohol and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learning objectives:

― Acquire knowledge about recent trends in alcohol
consumption and related harms;
― Comprehend the contributions of alcohol to deaths
of despair; and
― Synthesis information from multiple areas of
research to understand how alcohol and the
COVID-19 pandemic might interact to impact public


Dr Aaron White, PhD

Senior Scientific Advisor to the Director and Chief of the
Epidemiology and Biometry Branch at the National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Dr. Aaron White is a biological psychologist interested in
how alcohol affects the brain and overall health across
the lifespan. Some of the topics of his research over the
past 25 years include the impact of alcohol on adolescent
brain development and function, the mechanisms and
phenomenology of alcohol-induced memory blackouts, and
the impact of alcohol on public health, including emergency
department visits and deaths.
Along the way, he has also helped develop prevention
strategies, including AlcoholEdu, a widely used online sciencefocused program for high school and college students. He has
published two books on adolescent development, appeared
in dozens of educational videos, documentaries and news
stories, delivered hundreds of presentations and published
60+ scientific articles and book chapters, mostly related to
excessive alcohol use and its impact on the brain and health.

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