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Extreme heat is deadly. Exposure to high temperatures can make people sick and eventually lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. But new research shows that rising temperatures come with other compounding dangers. This week, A study published in the journal Communications Medicine found that higher temperatures are associated with drug and alcohol abuse-related hospitalizations in New York state.
The research was led by a team of environmental health scientists at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. They analyzed data from 671,625 alcohol-related and 721,469 substance-related hospital visits in New York between 1995 and 2014. They then compared these instances to temperature data from those years. Researchers found that warmer temperatures did lead to higher rates of hospitalization for the overconsumption of alcohol and illicit substances.
People ages 25 to 44 were more likely to go to the hospital for alcohol and substance abuse during warmer days. And men were more likely to need to go to the hospital across all of the causes analyzed. The hospitalizations were not only noted on the day that recorded temperatures rose, but they also continued to rise several days afterward.
There was a limit to how much substance abuse hospitalizations rose alongside the temperature outside. However, alcohol hospitalizations continued to increase alongside the outdoor temperature. “Higher hospital visits in higher temperatures for alcohol-related disorders may potentially be driven by more time outdoors performing riskier activities, consuming more substances in more pleasant outdoor weather, more perspiration causing greater dehydration, or driving while under the influence,” the researchers explained in the study.
Researchers explained that the effects of rising heat alongside substance hospitalizations should come with awareness that specifically shares the dangers of alcohol and drugs. “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,” Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, a study author and an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Public Health, said in a statement.
The study didn’t pinpoint exactly why substance abuse hospitalizations increased, but rising heat often challenges mental health. Research from 2022 outlined that emergency department check-ins related to mental and emotional health emergencies increased by about 8% on hot days. Researchers believe that this may be because heat worsens sleep quality, which will worsen mental health over time.
And as the climate crisis increases average temperatures, nighttime heat is getting worse. Nighttime temperatures are supposed to act like a buffer from the daytime heat, but when those temperatures don’t go down, frontline communities are most likely to see the impacts. This is especially true for people in lower-income communities who may struggle to afford utilities, and who may be more likely to live in hotter parts of a city.
The impacts on mood and overall emotional wellness are often seen through other public issues. Crime tends to rise alongside heat. Violent crime also spikes when there are milder winter days, Politico reports.
Want more climate and environment stories? Check out Earther’s guides to decarbonizing your home, divesting from fossil fuels, packing a disaster go bag, and overcoming climate dread. And don’t miss our coverage of the latest IPCC climate report, the future of carbon dioxide removal, and the un-greenwashed facts on bioplastics and plastic recycling.