Almost as soon as COVID-19 caused lockdowns in March, a culture arose around pandemic drinking. People were posting about their “quarantinis,” or making jokes about how every hour was now 5pm; why did it matter if they drank during the day?
With COVID-19 raging on, I wanted to check in with pandemic drinking. It isn’t simply a grating cultural trend; those in recovery from alcohol use disorder are struggling, and many people are facing new addictions.
The Short Inventory of Problems scale assesses issues that have arisen in people’s lives due to their substance use. Several of the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorders are about continuing to drink or use despite different types of consequences, so it’s a way to predict a problem.
This year, there was a 39% increase in alcohol-related problems compared to last year. Nearly 1 in 10 women experienced an increase in alcohol-related problems, and women have shown a 41% increase in heavy drinking.
It’s hard to find data for the current moment, as that usually comes out months later; but with many people facing a potentially isolated winter, the prospect of things getting better seems grim.
The safest way to socialize—outside—is going to be significantly more difficult as it keeps getting colder and darker. As many know, isolation is terrible for both mental health and recovery.
But the situation is not without hope. We made it through the beginning of the pandemic, when most people alive today had never experienced anything like this. While spring came soon after, before we knew much about the virus, we learned how to connect to people without leaving our houses.
People were resourceful and found creative ways to bond with those in their lives. We utilized technology to keep in touch. Video and phone calls are very important ways to stay connected to your support system, so that you stay accountable and don’t withdraw into substance use. There’s also Netflix watch parties, online board games, live streaming events, virtual dance parties, and other ways to both connect to others and keep your calendar busy this winter.
It’s also helpful to find engaging hobbies that you can do inside. You can learn a new skill or language, make art, start a crocheting project. This will distract you from cravings and make you feel connected to the world in meaningful ways. Both of these benefits are balms for addiction.
Take care of your body and mind and, above all, don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re struggling. Between pandemic anxiety, isolation, normal winter blues, boredom, and a culture encouraging drinking to cope, sticking to recovery is hard. But it is very worth it for many reasons.
Drinking makes it more difficult to make safe choices; one reason Major League Baseball restricted alcohol consumption, for instance, was because people are less likely to adhere to social distancing and other protective measures when drunk.
Staying sober will help you make healthy, active choices to protect yourself and others. Additionally, the World Health Organization has warned that heavy alcohol use increases your risk of going into acute respiratory distress (ARDS), a serious complication of COVID-19.
Using alcohol to cope with stress is unhelpful. I couldn’t be more thankful that I’ve been sober through this. I know how impossible it is to manage difficult emotions when you’re drinking heavily. Staying sober—and connected to your support system—throughout the COVID-19 pandemic will protect both your physical and mental health.
If you are struggling with alcohol use or a mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build the skills to cope with any situation sober, no matter how difficult. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.