During this time, we’ve seen the hoarding of toilet paper (why more people aren’t using bidets, I’m not sure) and other items like paper rolls, beans, and rice. But most notably, citizens are stocking up on an item state and local authorities have deemed essential – and that’s alcohol.
Now, don’t get me wrong…
Being cooped up in your apartment because of these stay-at-home orders is harder than it looks. And the stress of dealing with work, family, friends, isolation, and possible job loss can make anyone drink. However, those reasons are also precisely why you need to be careful with the amount of alcohol you are consuming.
In the following article, I’ll address the most recent numbers on alcohol use in the U.S., the current situation with alcohol during the pandemic, what previous pandemics have shown us about long-term alcohol abuse, and a simple assessment you can use to help guide your decision making in alcohol consumption and getting help if you need it.
Alcohol Use Is Soaring Right Now
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is one of the institutes which compromise the National Institutes of Health and is an organization we look to for the most up-to-date numbers on alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 outbreak. The NIAAA use their funding to conduct alcohol-related research, collaborate with other research institutes, and then share their research findings with the general population.
Established in 1970, the NIAAA has provided us with some eye-popping stats on alcohol use in the U.S. We’ve broken down the most interesting ones below:
- About 1 in 4 people 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month.
- About 14.4 million (6%) of people 18 and older qualify for classification as someone with an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
- As defined by the NIH, “AUD is a chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite, social occupational, or health consequences.”
- About 88,000 of people die from alcohol-related deaths each year.
COVID-19 & Alcohol Use
Back on March 18, CBD DFW quoted Governor Greg Abbott saying that the waivers he was giving “will allow restaurants to provide enhanced delivery options to consumers during this temporary period of social distancing.”
So what did this mean for Texas?
It meant that restaurants with a mixed-use permit could deliver beer, wine, and liquor. And boy, have they! I can’t even begin to express how happy my friends and family were at the news. Ever since then, my Instagram and Facebook feed has been blowing up with pictures of alcohol.
Some people are posting new cocktail combinations, and others are bragging about getting margaritas delivered to their front door. Unfortunately, this problem isn’t subduing and is, in fact, becoming more and more visible as quarantine continues.
For instance, I went to take out the trash the other day and saw a good number of the nearby trash cans stuffed full of empty boxes of beer, liquor and wine bottles, and trash bags of beer cans. It really struck me.
If this is how much is showing up on trash pickup day, how much of the intake are we not seeing? How much are people actually drinking? According to some number by Nielsen as reported by the NY post and Raw Story:
- Wine – Up by 27.6%
- Liquor – Up by 26.4%
- Beer, cider, and malt beverages – Up by 14%
- Boxed Wine – Up by 53%
- 24 packs of beer – Up by 24%
Compared to this time last year, alcohol sales are up by 55%. That’s a massive year-over-year jump! So how do we get to these numbers? Well, first of all, some of this spike is going to be people buying up alcohol to stock up during their stay-at-home orders.
But that’s not necessarily the issue I’m talking about here. My main concern is that people are having more free time at home with less ability to leave, that will inherently cause them to drink alcohol to pass the time. However, by doing so, they may inadvertently put themselves at risk for developing a substance use disorder (SUD) in the future.
But can’t they just lower their intake when the stay-at-home order stops? Well, maybe, but who wants to play that risky game. The thing is that everyone’s biochemistry is different and just as there are people who can have a muted response to some drugs, there are those who can have an over-exaggerated reaction to drugs.
I’m sure most will probably have no problem getting their intake back down to a normal level but then there will undoubtedly be those who will struggle and/or fail to get their intake back down. And with the stay-at-home orders rescinded, these same people will be entering back into the world of driving to go to work, seeing friends, etc. while struggling with an alcohol use disorder that developed during the coronavirus pandemic of 2019-2020.
Other Coronaviruses like SARS Give Us Insight Into Long-Term Alcohol Abuse
Do you remember the SARS outbreak back in 2003? There have been several studies done on coronaviruses throughout the years and all of them show a similar thing – that alcohol dependence follows pandemics.
Now, in the current climate, you’ve been hearing a lot about medical personnel during the COVID-19 outbreak. You’ve probably heard about how there is not sufficient PPE, that hospital staff are being overworked, and that we do not have enough hospital staff in a lot of areas to appropriately manage the outbreak situation.
That’s a lot to go through. So how are these medical professionals managing the outbreak outside of work? Well, we know that a lot of them are turning to alcohol and other substances to relieve stress and anxiety. And we know from this study, among plenty of others, that a significant portion of these medical personnel will be struggling with alcohol dependence years after this outbreak dies down.
The paper I referenced above follows medical personnel and examined alcohol dependence symptoms related to “exposure to SARS patients at work, being quarantined, the death or illness of a relative or friend from SARS and exposure to media coverage of the outbreak,” which is pretty much everything that medical personnel are going through right now.
So what exactly did the data show?
- The study found that being quarantined and/or working in areas where exposure to the virus was common was significantly associated with alcohol dependence 3 years after the outbreak.
- The study also found that simply being exposed to news about the outbreak was not significantly associated with alcohol dependence 3 years down the line.
What does this all mean?
It means that medical personnel who are directly exposed to situations involving the virus are highly at risk of developing an alcohol abuse disorder (AUD) during this time.
But the research said that those of us who are indirectly involved are safer, right? Wrong. That study focused on medical personnel but there are also plenty of studies on people who are indirectly exposed. If you want to read more about this specifically, you can refer to David H. Jernigan, PhD’s research.
What Can I do?
Well, you can begin by looking into your own drinking. There is a short, 4 question assessment which can help you assess whether you could benefit from looking for help. It’s called the CAGE assessment and scoring it really simple.
If you answer yes to 2 of the questions below, you may have an alcohol use disorder. If you answer yes to the 4th question, you would benefit from seeking help from qualified medical professionals.
- Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?
Now mind you, you can have just one of these and may have an alcohol use disorder. This is more a screening to get you thinking about yourself in relation to your alcohol consumption.
Do You Have An Addiction to Alcohol?
Times of high stress, instability, and uncertainty about the future, can cause us to turn to substances to relieve tension. However, this can get us into a bind when that anxiety provoking situation passes. It is in your best interest to take some time to look at yourself, and maybe check in with others about how much alcohol consumption is going on in your – and their – lives.
And if you find that you may be struggling with an alcohol dependence, alcoholism, or any related substance use disorder, don’t beat yourself up about it! This is not a moral failing on your part. This is not a weakness on your part.
Looking at yourself honestly and realizing you need help is an extremely courageous thing to do. You deserve help, compassion, patience, and to be valued. And we can help.
Here at Stonegate Center we offer a faith-based, evidence-based, and gender-separate program, which allows us the opportunity to create an environment of real healing. As a therapist, I have the privilege of helping you work through sensitive issues.
- Individual Counseling – During individual counseling, I use a combination of CBT/Narrative/Solution-Focused therapies. These therapy styles empower you by helping you see how your cognitions/behavior/thoughts are interrelated in your addiction as well as helping you clarify and make the changes necessary so that the story of your life is as close to how YOU want it to be. Not how addiction has made its so far.
- Group Sessions – These types of groups will help you develop self-awareness as begin to see yourself and your own behavior reflected in the lives of others. More so, it will help you learn how to express and talk about intimate and sensitive issues while having the group to help support you and give you feedback.
- Family Programming – Addiction is a disease which causes one’s friends and relatives to sometimes have to cut ties to preserve their own health. Family programming is a group designed for you and your loved ones to begin to really see, understand, and apply healthy principles which will help you, and them, in the addition experience.
Addiction is really difficult to overcome in isolation. Let us help you in creating the life that you want for yourself. If you are struggling with alcoholism call my team at (817) 993-9733 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re available to answer all your rehab-related questions 24/7.
Jonathan Mendoza is a Therapist for Stonegate Center. With a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Texas Wesleyan University, he has an interest in adolescent and adult substance abuse disorders and comorbidities. He hopes to use his training as both an MFT-A and an LPC-I to integrate and enhance the therapeutic effect of personal relationships for those in recovery. He is currently pursuing further training to become an AASECT-Certified Sex Therapist.