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K6 Dr Aaron White

K6 Dr Aaron White

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

Dr Aaron White

Sunday, October 18th, 2020  |  12 noon EST

Learning objectives:

Participants will:

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


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.



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.