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Study finds concerning, 'less obvious' new health risk linked to warmer temperatures: 'A public health priority'

The study is the first to investigate the connection.

Residents in Gulf Coast states should be aware that it may be present in their environments.

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The effects of rising temperatures bring a bevy of health risks, from respiratory diseases to heat stroke. A new study has identified a surprising health risk of rising temperatures: alcohol- and drug-related hospitalizations.

What's happening?

A study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that alcohol- and drug-related hospitalizations increased as temperatures rose. The study is the first to investigate how the climate crisis is affecting alcohol- and substance-related disorders.

"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, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Public Health and co-author of the study, told Medical Xpress.

The researchers noted that there are a variety of factors that lead to increased alcohol and drug consumption in higher temperatures. People are more likely to drink during the summer months, when they may be combining alcohol consumption with potentially risky outdoor activities. Higher temperatures also increase the risk of dehydration.

Drug-related hospitalizations also increased as temperatures rose, but only up to 65.8 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Why is this concerning?

Even without factoring in rising temperatures, alcohol-related deaths have been on the rise over the past two decades. Drug overdoses have increased by 781% since 1999. Considering that global temperatures are expected to continue rising, the evidence that alcohol- and drug-related hospitalizations increase when it's warmer out contributes to a concerning trend.

The study's authors also note that their findings may be understated because they couldn't account for alcohol- and drug-related deaths that occurred before hospitalization was possible.

What's being done about this?

The authors urged public health scientists and officials to raise awareness of the increase in substance disorders during warmer weather. 

Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, senior author of the study and associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Public Health, told Medical Xpress, "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."

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