Higher heat linked to more substance-related hospitalisations

Higher heat linked to more substance-related hospitalisations

Hospital visits linked to alcohol- and substance-related disorders are driven by elevated temperatures and could be further affected by rising temperatures due to climate change, according to new research by environmental health scientists at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Communications Medicine, is likely the first comprehensive investigation of the association between temperature and alcohol- and substance-related hospital visits.

“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,” says lead author Robbie Parks, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Public Health. 

The researchers examined the relationship between temperature and hospital visits related to alcohol and other drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, opioids, and sedatives in New York State. They used data from 671,625 alcohol- and 721,469 substance-related disorder hospital visits over 20 years and a comprehensive record of daily temperatures and relative humidity to derive insights using a statistical model.

More hospital visits in higher temperatures for alcohol-related disorders may potentially be driven by more time spent outdoors performing riskier activities, consuming more substances in pleasant outdoor weather, more perspiration causing greater dehydration, and driving while under the influence.

For other drug disorders (cannabis, cocaine, opioid, and sedatives), higher temperatures also resulted in more hospital visits but only up to a limit of 18.8°C. This may be because people are no likelier to go outside above a certain temperature.

Future research might examine the role of existing health conditions exacerbated by alcohol and/or substance use combined with rising temperatures.

The authors note that their study may underestimate the link between temperature rise and substance use disorders because the most severe disorders may have resulted in deaths before a hospital visit was possible. Going forward, the researchers may attempt to link cases of deaths with hospital visit records to create a fuller picture of patients’ medical history. 

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