One of the tertiary consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a marked increased consumption of alcohol. U.S. alcohol sales have increased 55% during the pandemic. American adults report they are drinking 14% more often. (1) This may be a result of restaurants closing, teaching kids at home, and people making their drinks at home or using alcohol as a coping mechanism. It is likely caused by a combination of factors.
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating daily stress for a great number of people. It can be difficult to cope with the fear, anxiety, and change in daily routines. Lifestyles have changed, jobs have been lost, and people are living in a time of uncertainty. For recovering alcoholics this can raise additional challenges. It is important to keep your supports as close as ever in a time like this. Even when in-person contact isn’t always practical, relying upon online meetings and contact with recovering friends is critical.
For people who have always been able to drink responsibly, it’s still important to pay special attention now. The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that if alcohol is used, it should be consumed in moderation. Used by adults of legal drinking age, moderation is considered up to one drink per day in women and two drinks per day for men. (2)
Remember, not only does drinking alcohol not protect you from COVID-19, but mental health issues and anxiety are often increased using alcohol and it weakens the body’s ability to fight the virus. Anything that ends up weakening the immune system increases the risk of respiratory distress and pneumonia associated with COVID-19. The temporary relief from anxiety or boredom drinking alcohol may deliver can come at a steep price. When drinking becomes habitual and it’s done in response to stress, the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder can be significantly higher.
It is important to look for signs and symptoms of problematic alcohol consumption. If you find yourself or your loved ones drinking more, trying to cut back or stop but cannot, experiencing changes in health or sleep patterns, or problems in your relationships, it may be time to ask for help.
Alcohol consumption causes over 95,000 deaths every year. (3) COVID-19 media coverage has grown exponentially while frank discussion about alcohol dependence has not. The bottom line is we must keep an eye on alcohol consumption at a time like this. The increase in drinking has the potential to become a pandemic within a pandemic and it must be taken seriously. There are many ways we can take care of ourselves and our families during this time. The best advice may be to focus on healthier ways of moderating stress and boredom than drinking alcohol regularly.
Here are some suggestions
- Take a break from news coverage. Set aside periods of time each day during which you close your news and social media feeds and turn off the TV.
- Care for your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Take time for some form of physical activity every day and get a full night’s sleep.
- Try to engage in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Make positive use of the extra free time you may have instead of filling the void with alcohol.
- Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Use social media to connect to the people you care about when you can’t reach them in other ways.
- Decide what must get done today and what can wait. Priorities may shift to reflect changes in schedules and routines and that is okay. Recognize what you have accomplished at the end of the day.
- If you are a person in recovery from alcoholism, strengthen your ties with your fellowship of choice and/or your friends in recovery. Attend to your recovery and take nothing for granted.