Over the past year, alcohol consumption has risen as many people started drinking or drinking more to cope with COVID-19-related stressors. At the same time, access to treatment was impacted by restrictions intended to keep patients physically safe — but leaving them mentally vulnerable.
Since 1987, the month of April has been recognized as Alcohol Awareness Month by the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).
“Alcohol Awareness Month brings additional attention to the education and awareness of the risks of excessive alcohol use,” said Frederic Blow, Ph.D., director of the Addiction Center at Michigan Medicine. “Additionally, we aim to reduce the stigma associated with alcohol use disorders.”
According to Blow, the need for alcohol awareness is more important than ever.
“As people drink more, or drink more often, with the intention of alleviating stress, they find that the excessive use makes them feel worse over time,” said Blow. “Because alcohol directly affects the brain and leads to changes in mood and behavior, it can worsen depression, anxiety, immune function and numerous other health problems.”
Besides an overall increase in consumption, COVID-19 complicated matters for patients who were already in recovery.
“Many people rely on support from friends and loved ones, as well as support groups, to feel stable in recovery,” said
Mark Ilgen, Ph.D., director of U-M Addiction Treatment Services (UMATS), the clinical treatment arm of the Addiction Center. “Their whole support system changed overnight. This may have had a negative effect on their recovery, or could lead to a relapse.”
UMATS quickly adapted offerings to ensure that patients with substance use concerns have access to help. Appointments and support groups were conducted virtually and online resources were created. While some patients struggled to stay engaged virtually, many were grateful to still have access to the structure and support of UMATS’ groups and programming.
“Alcohol Awareness Month is a great time to take a step back and reassess our own habits,” said Blow. “If you find yourself or a loved one having a drinking problem, don’t wait. This disease is absolutely treatable.”