The stress of the pandemic has more people turning to alcohol as a drug. According to William Scott Killgore, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, “being under lockdown during a worldwide pandemic has been hard on everyone, and many people are relying on greater quantities of alcohol to ease their distress.” From April to September 2020, Killgore did an “Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test study, in which 6,000 adults from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. participated. Those in “lockdown,” had a severe alcohol dependence that rose from nearly 4% in April to 17.4% by September.
This stress is triggered by social isolation, uncertainty about the future, financial difficulties, grief, and boredom that the COVID-19 pandemic brings to households. Excessive alcohol consumption can be linked to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression which can worsen during the pandemic.
The Physical Ramifications of Over Quaffing
Too many drinks can change mood and behavior, damage a person’s heart, raise blood pressure, effect liver and pancreas, increase risk of several types of cancer, weaken a person’s immune system, and over time, cause adaptations in the brain, similar to other drugs that intensify the stress response. Alcohol misuse is associated with body acute respiratory distress syndrome, because it interferes with the body’s immune response to viral and bacterial infections in the lungs. There is a greater risk of mortality and a more severe reaction to COVID-19 with AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder).
The Psychological Effects of Overdrinking
Killgore comments “I worry about the effect on families and children. Being cooped up with family for weeks and months without a break can be difficult, but when excess alcohol gets mixed in, it can become a recipe for increased aggressive behavior and domestic violence.” On a larger scale, it can lead to deaths from car accidents, poverty, divorce, crime, STDS, yet it is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
Binge drinking in U.S. has spiked considerably since the pandemic began according to a new study from the Rand Corporation researchers. Women and the young are greatly affected, with women’s drinking habits increasing by 14-17%. Are they trying to “hold it altogether at home?” (managing children’s schooling, working from home) Is this the reason why heavy drinking rose 41% among women?
The “young” population in their 20’s to 40’s, many living with their families and working from home, if at all, displayed a high prevalence of alcoholic fatty liver, according to healthline.com.
Because most U.S. states designated liquor stores as “essential businesses,” they didn’t shutter during the pandemic. Liquor is easy to obtain and can even be delivered to your door
Data from the week ending March 21, 2020 indicated that liquor store sales had increased by 54% and online alcohol sales had increased by 262% compared to sales data from the same week in 2019.
‘Alcohol is obviously a readily available option and is marketed as a way to cope with stress,” says Claire Nicogossian, Psy.D, Rhode Island psychologist. “Quarantine cocktail parties and gatherings on Zoom have become popular.”
“Those who are at Risk for Excessive Alcohol Consumption are those with inadequate social support, limited finances, a pre-existing mental health condition, substance abuse or dependent issue, limited, passive or escaping/numbing coping skills, loss of access to an alcohol substance dependence treatment program that they were part of before the pandemic. The resources and activities individuals engage in to reduce stress and improve wellbeing have been significantly altered, put on hold or canceled altogether.”
However, people in recovery or those who need help can always use Telehealth to talk to a doctor or attend support group meetings via zoom. These options may lift their moods and improve their coping skills
How Much Is Too Much?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines excessive alcohol consumption as:
- For women: Four or more drinks during a single occasion (one is recommended) or eight or more drinks per week.
- For men: Five or more drinks during a single occasion (two is recommended) or 15 or more drinks per week.
It helps to know the alcohol content in a beverage so you can make well-informed decisions about your drinking, and limit your consumption throughout the week.
With social distancing and other safety measures to curb the spread of the COVOID-19, we have to change the way we practice leisure and taking care of ourselves.
Tips for Cutting Back On Drinking
When you do drink, be mindful. Don’t program your day around drinking. Cope with your present living conditions by: exercising, following creative pursuits, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, eating nutritious food, and taking care of your emotional health with therapy or other support. Suggestions by NPR, December 17, 2020.
Even on St. Patrick’s Day, limit your toasts. While your alcohol is probably not spiked with the illicit drug fentanyl that kills, it still can numb you and can act like a drug because it IS a drug
Wesley Cullen Davidson
Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.