Contributor: Erin Pearson
Of the many side effects of Covid-19, increased alcohol consumption is an overlooked but concerning reaction. Sales shot up by 55 percent by the end of March 2020 and 16 percent of people reported drinking more because of the lockdown restrictions.
From boredom and social isolation to crippling anxiety and depression, there are many reasons why alcohol consumption has increased during this unprecedented time. But the fact remains, excessive alcohol consumption is detrimental to physical and mental health.
Research is now highlighting the link between excessive alcohol consumption and severe covid-19 symptoms, so it is important to understand the risks of alcohol abuse during covid-19 restrictions and what can be done to help those in need.
How Much Alcohol is Too Much?
Drinking more than 14 units a week is considered a risk to health. This is the equivalent to six pints of beer or 10 small glasses of wine. Although this might not seem like a lot, this is classed as excessive and if you are regularly drinking more than this every week, evidence shows you could be doing lasting damage.
How Does Alcohol Impact Your Body and Your Immune System?
Drinking too much alcohol affects almost every major function in the body. From damaging the central nervous system to increasing the risk of liver cancer, most people are aware of the negative health implications of excessive alcohol consumption.
However, in light of the ongoing pandemic, new research is highlighting the link between alcohol consumption and the immune system.
Excessive alcohol makes it difficult for the immune system to work effectively against infection. It has been shown to damage the immune cells in the lungs and digestive system, which puts those who drink alcohol at more risk from covid-19.
Main Reasons Why People Drink Alcohol
Drinking has become a prevalent part of society, but what are some of the main factors that make people drink more excessively than they should? Here are the top three:
One of the main reasons why people drink alcohol is how widely accepted it is in our society. Alcohol is a prevalent part of our celebrations, special occasions, and every day we are bombarded with ads telling us what we should be drinking.
Hope to cope: Be confident in saying no when others are drinking. You don’t need to give any excuses, but when you are confident in your decision, others will respect your choice.
Research has shown a link between stress and alcohol consumption for years. Those going through periods of high stress are more likely to drink as a coping mechanism, especially those experiencing PTSD.
Hope to cope: A good coping mechanism is mindfulness. Research has shown this is as effective as medication in reducing stress.
Those who have experienced previous trauma are more likely to drink excessively. This is often used as a coping mechanism to deal with the ongoing pain but it is masking the symptoms rather than treating the cause.
How to cope: Speak to your healthcare provider about seeing a therapist. Working through past trauma is the only way to overcome it, and by doing so, you’ll be able to let go of alcohol as a crutch.
Alcohol and Covid-19
When Covid-19 hit, the dangers of drinking excessive alcohol were broadcast by the U.S. surgeon general and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both suggested people should cut back on drinking to avoid the health risks and dependency that lockdown restrictions heightened.
How COVID-19 Affects Those Struggling With Alcoholism
Covid-19 poses the most significant challenges for people with Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders (ASUD). With an already weakened immune system, those with ASUD are vulnerable to experiencing more severe symptoms of covid.
But it’s not just the increased risk of the virus itself. The secondary effects have also put those with alcoholism in a dangerous position.
Millions of people worldwide are experiencing prolonged periods of stress, fear, and dread. This is a significant trigger for someone with ASUD and could lead to further alcohol abuse as a way to cope with the stress of the pandemic.
Lack of Healthcare
Covid-19 has halted healthcare worldwide. Many people have been left stranded without critical care, including those undergoing therapy and group treatment for ASUD. While these treatments are potentially on hold, they are at greater risk of relapse or health complications.
With urgency placed on prioritizing healthcare to those deemed to need it more, people with ASUD are marginalized and more at risk of missing out on treatments.
Consumption before VS during Covid-19
Reports have shown a startling increase in alcohol consumption almost immediately after lockdown restrictions were put in place.
16 percent of people have reported drinking more alcohol since restrictions began, according to one study. While research by Washington State University has shown one in four people reported a change in their alcohol consumption after stay-at-home orders were put in place.
This is reflected in the 55 percent increase in alcohol sales in the United States during March compared to the same period last year.
It’s clear to see that consumption of alcohol has changed because of the pandemic.
Who’s at Risk the Most
Those most at risk are those struggling with their alcohol consumption. Feeling isolated and heightened stress because of this unprecedented time we’re living in is putting huge strain on those with alcoholism and is undoing progress individuals were making before restrictions limited treatment and support.
For many people coping with alcoholism, their support system and social connections are extremely important for motivation. So it’s no surprise that now, many people are feeling vulnerable and more triggered than ever to turn to alcohol.
How to Know if You Need Help
If your alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic or you are worried, here are some of the signs that show you should reach out for help:
- Loss of motivation or interest in hobbies you used to enjoy
- Drinking more than usual and getting drunk more regularly
- Needing more and more alcohol to achieve the same effects
- Persistently feeling unwell, tired, or irritable
- Finding it difficult to say no to alcohol when offered
- Anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues
- Becoming secretive or dishonest about how much you drink
If you’re experiencing any of these issues, it’s important to reach out to a loved one or your healthcare professional and seek help. Now more than ever, it’s important to get the help you need.