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Alcohol Use during the Pandemic: Do I have a problem?

By Anna Themanson, LCPC, CADC

The COVID-19 pandemic has created distress for everyone that has been difficult to describe. People who typically are able to cope well with fear or stress have experienced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and an overall lack of motivation. Because of this, we have all sought comfort in different ways. Some have taken to online shopping or indulging in that extra snack, while others have turned to substances, specifically alcohol.

People who experience prolonged periods of distress are more likely to increase their alcohol intake which could lead to misuse or abuse as well as increased tolerance (Grossman et al., 2020). A study by Grossman et al, 2020 researched drinking habits in adults throughout the pandemic and reports that within their sample, adults consumed more drinks over a greater amount of time. Reasons for increased drinking habits included increased stress, increased alcohol availability, and boredom. In-store alcohol purchases have increased by 21% and 234% for online purchases (Grossman, et al., 2020). Many restaurants have also been offering alcohol “to-go” or for delivery which provided easier access to alcohol whereas typically that would not be possible. Similar studies also showed that alcohol use increased in adults after other major distressing events like 9/11 and hurricane Katrina. Another study from the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol use reported that increased drinking among binge drinkers was significantly higher than non-binge drinkers.

Alcohol use and abuse can worsen mental health symptoms and similarly, alcohol use can increase when a person is experiencing negative mental health effects. Isolation from physical distancing as well as stress from job loss and financial strains can exacerbate depressive or anxiety symptoms leading people to want relief from such symptoms. Lack of activity and not leaving home can increase boredom which has also been identified as a cause of increased drinking.