The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly triggered a global reaction of fear, loneliness, uncertainty, and other symptoms of psychological distress. But, unfortunately, it also triggered a rising normalization in binge drinking, with countless memes devoted to worshipping at-home cocktails like quarantinis and restaurants adjusting their menus to accommodate takeout beer and wine.
With stay-at-home orders and many employees working remotely, many people turned to alcohol as a form of cheap entertainment. Subsequently, people also used alcohol to self-medicate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
But are certain people drinking more than others? And, at what point does problematic drinking require treatment and intervention? Let's discuss.
Drinking during COVID-19: What the Data Shows
Research shows that alcohol consumption certainly increased during 2020. One study found that, on average, people drank almost 27 drinks over a 30 days period. In that same study, over a third of participants indicated engaging in binge drinking, with 7% of those participants engaging in extreme binge drinking. In addition, most participants reported their drinking had increased during the pandemic.
Women were particularly susceptible to increased drinking. Moreover, emerging research suggests that, compared to men, women experienced higher rates of pandemic-related stress. This likely has to do with abrupt changes in childcare and navigating the stressors of raising children while managing changing work expectations with everyday household tasks.
Some data shows that alcohol consumption among adults rose by 14% from 2019 to 2020. However, when examining women only, there was a staggering 41% increase. Thus, while men are more likely to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorders, women appear to be catching up with this concerning trend.
Who Is Most At Risk for Abusing Alcohol?
Anyone can abuse alcohol, and it's important to remember that addiction is a complex, multifaceted disease. In some cases, the high level of consumption is obvious, particularly if someone constantly drinks and in front of other people. Other times, in instances of functional alcoholism or even with secretive 'closet drinking,' others might not be aware of how much someone drinks.
With that in mind, some common risk factors for problematic drinking include:
lacking effective social support (or spending time with other people who abuse alcohol)
having a preexisting mental health condition like depression or anxiety
lacking healthy coping skills to manage stress
experiencing several stressors or changes at the same time
having financial problems
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people experienced some or even all of these risk factors at the same time. Unfortunately, alcohol can become an easy crutch- a quick, legal method for numbing your feelings and temporarily escaping life's difficult moments.
What to Do if You're Drinking More Than Usual
Problematic drinking can ebb and flow, but it's important to be honest with yourself. Are you hiding your alcohol consumption from others? Does it seem like you're just "getting through the day" and waiting for the next drink? Has a loved one expressed concern about your new habit?
Such acknowledgment can be difficult, particularly if you feel ashamed or embarrassed over the situation. But remember that most people struggled during this time. You coped in the way you knew how. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to start feeling better.
Recognize Your Triggers
When do you tend to drink? Is it after you put the kids to bed? On the weekends when you have time off work? When you're with a certain person?
Rate your triggers on a scale from 0-10 and start reflecting on how you can adapt to these triggers. For instance, you may need to develop a different ritual for yourself after tucking your kids in for the night. Or, you might want to plan to spend time with different people over the weekend.
Identify Healthier Coping Habits
Instead of drinking, what can you do to manage your stress? What did you use to enjoy doing in the past? Write a list if you must, and start integrating those skills into your daily routine.
Healthy coping habits can include:
spending time connecting with loved ones
embracing creative passions
meditating or praying
focusing on your physical health (sleeping well, eating nutritious food, staying hydrated)
going to therapy or meeting with your doctor
focusing on gratitude
Consider Professional Support
Drinking can progressively worsen, particularly if you have any history of mental illness or substance abuse. It tends to be easier to prevent a developing problem than treat it several months or years later.
If you can't stop drinking on your own, it's important to reach out. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need medical detox or ongoing monitoring in a residential treatment facility. In more mild or moderate cases, you might benefit from outpatient therapy or attending consistent support groups.
At The Resurface Group, we understand how substance abuse can ravage individuals and their loved ones. We embrace combining holistic approaches with evidence-based treatment to help you free yourself from addiction. Contact us today to learn more.