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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.

In addition to worsening mental health, alcohol abuse can have severe negative effects on physical health. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that alcohol use can damage the immune system as well as the epithelial cells in the lungs which are related to acute respiratory distress syndrome potentially making users more susceptible to more severe effects of COVID-19. Drinking in excess can also cause high blood pressure, fibrosis, and problems with the pancreas.

How can I tell if I have a problem?

An article from Michigan Health by Kevin Joy poses several questions to ask yourself to see if you may struggle with alcoholism: Have you tried more than once or wanted to reduce or stop drinking but couldn’t? Have you found that when the effects of alcohol wear off that you experience withdrawal symptoms such as sleep disturbance, shakiness, nausea, or sweating? Have you wanted to drink so badly that you couldn’t think of anything else or put off social plans or other responsibilities in order to drink?

Other thoughts to consider is identifying if alcohol use is interfering with daily habits like school, work, or personal relationships and if you’ve continued to drink despite negative effects in your life. It’s also important to recognize if you feel the need to drink in order to “function” and if you’ve drank more or longer than expected. If you have responded affirmatively to any of these questions, you could benefit from seeking help for excessive drinking.

What can I do to get help?

If you would like to seek help for alcohol use, you can contact your primary care physician to get referrals for substance use treatment. They can help you identify what level of care you’re needing at that time. You can also search for addiction counselors or therapists in your area as well as support groups or group counseling specifically for alcohol use. Seeking treatment early can help prevent negative long-term effects of excessive alcohol use. If you choose to seek treatment, know that you are not alone and there is help out there for you!

Contact us today to schedule an appointment!


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