Granite Recovery Centers shared that during times of stress, people often reach for alcohol. A substance long-relied upon for social relief, celebratory occasions, and pleasure, it is also used as an escape mechanism, or to cope with difficult times, tiring days, or distressing situations. The latter scenarios are played out in all pockets of society—from mothers clamoring for their ‘wine thirty after a long day with their kids, Wall Street financiers hitting the bar after work for whiskey sours, college students partying nonstop after finals week, to union workers gathering at a pub for beers after their shift is done. This socially accepted, popular way to unwind releases inhibitions and temporarily abates worry and anxiety from the day, week, month, or year. In cases of extreme use, these drinking patterns increase and evolve in severity, and problems begin to crop up. This is recognized as Alcohol Use Disorder, which wreaks havoc in the drinker’s life and for everyone around them.
So, naturally, in a year like 2020, faced with the blistering reality of the COVID-19 global pandemic, people are reaching for the bottle more often than not. There is considerable fear of the unknowns surrounding the virus, and it is a time, unlike anything we have ever experienced. We don’t know when or if things will ever return to normal.
In order to better understand the dangers posed from indulging in a ‘quarantine,’ or recognizing trouble curtailing alcohol intake, we broke down why people are drinking so much right now, why it could lead to consequences, and what you can do if you or a loved one can’t stop.
Drinking Through the Pandemic
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Americans have been consuming 14% more alcohol than normal, a statistic reported by the journal JAMA Network Open. Nielsen reports a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol in March 2020 and a 262% increase in online sales from 2019. While this is not altogether shocking when considering other times in history that alcohol consumption has increased (after September 11th, during large storms or bouts of inclement weather like hurricanes), this is particularly troubling because of the unique risk heightened by the pandemic. If someone becomes increasingly reliant on alcohol during this time, not only could it progress into a potentially life-threatening addiction, but it could also put them at greater risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
Why exactly are people drinking so much at this time? Surprisingly, it isn’t all related to the anxiety of catching the disease, though that is a major catalyst. Other major worries include:
- Vaccine: Speculation about a vaccine continues to circulate, though so far none has been scientifically approved.
- Financial difficulties/unemployment: The economy is in a fragile state as many industries have been put on hold to avoid spread. People who have lost their jobs may be relying on unemployment benefits, or if they will be let go completely.
- Homeschooling children: Many schools have switched to hybrid or completely remote learning, which places responsibility on parents/guardians to assist with homework and school assignments.
- Loneliness: Not being able to see family and friends or attend social gatherings can contribute to depression and feelings of sadness and isolation.
- Boredom: Without having a job to go to every day, boredom has become a major factor for people drinking for something to do or to occupy their time.
- Discord at home: Being cooped up in the house might mean families being together for much longer periods of time than normal, and can lead to disputes or arguments.