- Hotter temperatures lead to more hospital visits for alcohol and substance-related issues.
- Hospitalizations for drug problems increase with rising temperatures, but this effect stops at 65.8°F (18.8°C), suggesting a temperature limit where behavior changes.
- The study's findings might not fully capture the situation because severe cases could result in deaths before hospitalization, indicating a more severe problem.
In a new study, Columbia University researchers have discovered that high temperatures are increasing drug and alcohol-related hospital visits, and they suggest that climate change may worsen the problem. Published in Communications Medicine, the researchers warn that climate change could further affect this relationship, as global average temperatures continue to rise.
First study author Robbie Parks, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City, said, "During periods of higher temperatures, we observed a corresponding increase in hospital visits related to alcohol and substance use. This also highlights some less obvious potential consequences of climate change."
The researchers examined the relationship between temperature and hospital visits related to alcohol and various other drugs. They compiled more than 670,000 alcohol-related hospital visits and over 720,000 drug-related hospital visits over a period of 20 years in New York.
They compiled a comprehensive record of daily temperatures and relative humidity, and they used a statistical model to compare days with high temperatures to days with lower temperatures.
Weather and substance use
The study noted an increasing trend of heavy drinking and alcohol-related deaths in the United States in recent decades. The study also noted that deaths due to drug overdose had increased by more than five times in the past two decades.
Extreme hot and cold weather is already a big health problem, causing issues like heatstroke. But it can also impact drug and alcohol use. Researchers have mainly looked at how climate change affects infectious diseases and long-term health, but there are reasons why weather changes could affect how people use drugs and alcohol.
People might do more risky outdoor activities, drink or use drugs more, get dehydrated, or drive under the influence due to warmer weather. All of these factors could lead to more hospital visits for drug and alcohol problems during hotter weather.
Scientists conducted the first big study to see how temperature is linked to hospital visits for drug and alcohol issues in order to understand this better.
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."
Robbie M. Parks, PhD, first author, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Public HealthAdvertisement
The authors have noted that the study may actually underestimate the link between increased temperatures and substance abuse disorders, as deaths due to the most severe disorders may have occurred before a hospital visit was possible.
There are steps that publish health officials could take to decrease the number of alcohol and drug related emergencies, such as awareness campaigns about the effects of rising temperatures on substance use.
“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,” said senior study author Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia.
A warming climate brings new risks
In the future, health researchers could study the connection between health conditions that are made worse by alcohol and drug use, along with rising temperatures.
The study might not show the full link between temperature and drug issues because severe cases could result in death before a hospital visit. Researchers plan to connect death cases with hospital records to get a better understanding of patients' medical history.
“Public health interventions could involve information campaigns during periods of hot weather explaining the risks of consuming psychoactive substances, and reminders to particularly keep hydrated and out of direct sunlight,” Parks suggested.
Parks said, "This study is really one of several highlighting potentially understudied links between climate change and public health, highlighting how widespread the impacts of rising temperatures are on health."
Public health experts and officials can do things like awareness campaigns about the risks of using substances during warm weather. These findings could help create policies to support communities at risk of substance issues during hot periods.
According to senior author Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, it's crucial to have public health efforts that address alcohol and drug problems in warmer weather, like sharing information about the risks of using substances when it's hot.
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