As lockdowns have increased across the nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, alcoholism became its own pandemic within the pandemic. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol consumption rates generally go up during times of national crisis. As people’s fears, anxieties, and uncertainties about the impact of COVID-19
have grown, people may have turned to alcohol as a means of coping. Drinking rates have increased in terms of binge drinking sessions and the number of days per month that people drink. For those in recovery, the ability to maintain sobriety has become even more challenging than usual.
The Unique Challenges People Have Faced During the Pandemic
Facing a pandemic of this magnitude occurs so rarely that we do not have a frame of reference to cope. People all around the world needed to face several challenges during this crisis, such as:
Working an essential job and being exposed to the virus
Educating children at home
Loss of contact with friends and family
Fear of getting sick
Grieving those who have died due to the virus
These challenges and more coincided with an increase in using alcohol to cope, even among non-alcoholics. To deal with this increase in alcoholism and misuse, let’s consider why people tend to drink more during times of great uncertainty and crisis.
Why Do People Drink More During Times of Crisis?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “motives [for drinking] tend to fall into two main categories: enhance positive feelings or suppress negative feelings. During the COVID-19 pandemic, both motives can play a role in drinking more than usual.”
Enhancing Positive Feelings
When people feel dismal about day-to-day life without leaving home much or meeting friends, they might drink to enhance the feeling of positive events.
This motivation for underlying drinking might increase during online chats with friends, on holidays, or after hearing any positive news.
People might also try to create positive feelings by drinking more to feel good artificially.
Suppressing Negative Feelings
As people experience negative emotions related to stress, anxiety, and depression, they might drink more to “push those feelings down or away.”
Increased isolation can create feelings of loneliness. Losing a job can cause anxiety about economic uncertainty. Teaching children at home with school closures can be stressful. Working in an essential position during a crisis can be nerve-wracking.
Suppressing negative feelings can become a cycle, as people feel shame or guilt about drinking to cope, then turn to alcohol to cope with these negative feelings.
Solutions for Increased Alcohol Consumption
Understanding the motive of why someone is drinking more is important to help find replacement behaviors. Some people may not have been impacted as severely as others. For example, someone who had already worked remotely may not have lost their job and might not be drinking more to enhance positive feelings. However, a person dealing with the loss of employment or grieving the death of a loved one might be drinking to suppress negative emotions. Knowing the underlying causes of increased alcohol consumption can help tackle the issue.
Fulfilling Needs to Solve the Issues
At the root of increased drinking levels is the fulfillment of a need. When someone can find a healthy means of fulfilling the same need, they can begin the healing process. For those facing uncertainty due to the economic crisis of lockdowns, they might need to:
Connect to resources in their community, such as food banks, heating/energy assistance programs, clothing drives, and, in dire states, or shelter services.
Navigate their state’s unemployment system and access any pandemic assistance they might need.
Search for online employment opportunities to bring in some additional money from home.
When a person’s mental health is impacted due to the pandemic—such as turning to alcohol as means of coping with negative feelings or enhancing positive ones—they might need to adapt their coping skills to fit the circumstances:
Exercise is vital to maintain our mental health. Gym closures may have stunted people’s ability to work out; however, they can try:
At home workouts with bodyweight exercises (i.e., “calisthenics,” like push-ups, situps, and jumping jacks) can be completed easily for a good activity.
Getting out for a walk, a hike, or run, while following appropriate safety considerations and social distancing.
Searching the internet for guided at-home workouts for free on YouTube. Many do not require special equipment.
Finding new ways to maintain social contacts and have fun:
Try Zoom, facetime, or other means of video conferencing to talk with friends and family.
Play online games with friends to have fun during downtime or on weekend nights.
Use “watch party” options on streaming services to watch movies or television with friends and family in separate homes.
The crisis of the pandemic has impacted nearly every single person in some way. By finding healthy coping skills adapted to the circumstances, we can minimize the severity of the “pandemic within the pandemic” of alcoholism.
Helping clients during the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges as alcohol misuse has increased across the nation. As people deal with anxiety and feelings of uncertainty due to lockdowns and fear of sickness, they might be turning to alcohol to cope. Those in recovery might be at an increased risk of relapse, and others with no prior alcohol abuse history might be in danger of developing a substance use disorder. Treatment may seem difficult; however, many programs and centers have safely continued treating clients during this time. Safety Net Recovery of Atlanta continues to remain committed to helping clients gain sober living skills and support. We are here to help those who are in recovery or those who are new to sober living. Getting help during this time might be more crucial than ever. We believe that recovery is the net, and we are here to help hold that net! Call us today at (770) 432-9774.