During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s imperative we hone in on the habits that directly affect our health and wellbeing. During the month of April, we would like to shed some light on the topic of alcohol use and misuse.As the number one most consumed psychoactive substance in the United States, excessive alcohol use, especially during COVID-19 social isolation, poses another significant threat to individuals and families.1
In this country, much of our social culture is centered around eating and drinking, especially alcohol. In the midst of COVID-19 related stress - there has been an explosion of drinking-related memes and witty jokes being shared on social media, group texts, etc. Humor is therapeutic, especially during such trying times. We need to smile, but we also need to pay close attention to the underlying messages we are receiving and sending out. The truth is, drinking is not going to help us cope with the weeks and months ahead. Instead, it has the potential to threaten both our mental and physical health.
Alcohol use disorder is a chronic, progressive disease that is fatal if left untreated. It is estimated to claim the lives of 88,000 people each year.2 Each April, since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness Month to increase awareness and understanding, reduce the stigma, and to encourage local communities to focus on alcohol use disorders and alcohol-related issues.
Unfortunately rates of alcohol consumption, and of heavy drinking, are expected to rise as result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 55.3 percent of people ages 18 or older reported they drank in the past month, and over 26 percent reported past month binge drinking.3 For many people, alcohol is considered an essential purchase. Although establishments such as bars and restaurants have been shut down in Michigan due to COVID-19, alcohol is still available for purchase at grocery stores, gas stations, etc. Alcoholic beverage sales have skyrocketed as people ‘stock up’ on beer, wine, and liquor.4 After a long, stressful day of COVID-19 related bad news – a glass, or two, of wine or beer might feel like it’s exactly what is needed. However, the risks of increased drinking and alcohol misuse are real.
Alcohol directly affects the brain, causing changes in mood and behavior. As the addiction progresses, it can lead to or worsen existing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Alcohol also has the ability to decrease immune function, which can increase susceptibility to illness, etc. At a time when COVID-19 is spreading quickly through communities, excessing alcohol use is especially dangerous.
With the right help, recovery is possible. In the U.S., there are an estimated 20 million individuals and family members living in recovery.3 If you find yourself or a loved one having a drinking problem, now is the time to take action. Talk to someone you trust, reach out to your doctor or therapist. Many providers are offering virtual appointments. There are also numerous resources that you can access from home such as virtual AA and NA meetings.
We’ve compiled a list of Coronavirus COVID-19 Addiction/Recovery Resources to help support you and your loved ones during this trying time. The list includes free 24 hour helplines and text lines, online mutual support group meetings (AA, NA, etc.), and other helpful resources. Don’t delay getting the help you or your loved one needs. We’re in this together.
Frederic C. Blow
Director, U-M Addiction Center
Professor, Department of Psychiatry
Director, Substance Abuse Program
Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychology
Senior Research Scientist, Center for Clinical Management Research, Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System