Why Have I Been Drinking More During COVID-19?

in Recovery
Published Nov 6, 2020
image of drinking too much during COVID

Alcohol misuse is a severe public health issue throughout the United States. The effects COVID-19 has had globally have only exacerbated alcohol use. As people are socially distanced and isolated, some have turned to alcohol or have started drinking more than before COVID-19. However, alcohol can further complicate COVID-19.  Despite rising stress and anxiety during the pandemic, there are several ways to cope without using alcohol.

The Rise of Alcohol Use During COVID-19

During COVID-19, alcohol use has been on the rise. A study by Nielsen on “Rebalancing the ‘COVID-19 Effect’ on Alcohol Sales” reported that alcohol sales in stores were up 54% in late March compared to March of last year. Online sales were up nearly 500% in late April. In a poll of 2,200 adults conducted in early April, 16% of adults said they were drinking more during the pandemic, with higher rates among younger adults.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Defining the amount of alcohol consumed as “too much” depends on factors such as gender and weight. According to federal dietary guidelines, “moderate” alcohol consumption is defined by one to two drinks for men and one drink for women. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in two hours.

Binge drinking that turns severe can be given the medical diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is a brain disease characterized by an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 15 million people in the United States have AUD.

Excessive alcohol use has many detrimental effects on different parts of the body, including the:

  • Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain works. This interference can cause mood and behavior changes, make it harder to think clearly, and make it hard to move with coordination.
  • Drinking over an extended time or drinking too much on a single occasion can have effects on the heart, including:
    • Cardiomyopathy – stretching, and drooping of the heart muscle
    • Arrhythmias – irregular heartbeat
    • Stroke
    • High blood pressure
  • Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver and can lead to numerous problems, including:
    • Steatosis, or fatty liver
    • Alcoholic hepatitis
    • Fibrosis
    • Cirrhosis
  • Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Why Drinking Has Increased During COVID-19

The effects of COVID-19 pandemic can lead to excessive alcohol use. The stress of events and anxiety about the future can increase drinking and exacerbate alcohol use disorder symptoms. Drinking alcohol may seem to provide relief from stress. However, alcohol causes higher amounts of cortisol to be released in the brain, altering its chemistry and changing what the body sees as “normal.” Alcohol shifts the hormonal balance and changes how the body sees stress and how it responds to it. It also prevents the body from returning to its initial hormone balance point, forcing it to set a new physiological functioning point.

Feelings of isolation and boredom due to social distancing may also affect alcohol consumption. Isolation can lead to feelings of depression, which may lead to drinking to stop depressive symptoms. When isolated, it may seem as if there is nothing to do, and feeling like drinking is the only solution to boredom may lead to excessive alcohol use.

Social media has also played a part in encouraging excessive drinking. Many posts talking about COVID day drinking and creations of COVID-19 drinking games have created normalcy around alcohol use. Social media posts may encourage people to believe that drinking to deal with the pandemic’s problems is expected.

The Effects of Alcohol on COVID-19

Alcohol has many hazardous effects on the immune system. Excessive alcohol use can cause inflammation and interfere with the body’s immune response to viral and bacterial infections. Alcohol damages epithelial cells that line the surface of the lungs and are associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome. Impaired immune system function and increased susceptibility to respiratory illness could contribute to more severe COVID-19 symptoms and a greater risk of mortality.

How to Cope With COVID-19

Many coping strategies can be used to deal with stress that does not involve alcohol use. Alcohol can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling. Ways to cope with stress may include:

  • Taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself may include: eating healthy, well-balanced meals; exercising regularly; and getting plenty of sleep
  • Talking to others. Sharing your problems and feelings with a support system, friends, or family can help alleviate stress feelings.
  • Finding new hobbies. Finding new hobbies may help with feelings of stress and boredom. Examples of hobbies you may take an interest in are yoga, art, cooking, running, etc.
  • Taking a break. If the news or social media are causing stress, take a break from listening, watching, or scrolling.
  • Recognizing when you need more help. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol use, talk to a professional.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a multitude of issues for everyone. Feelings of stress, anxiety, isolation, and social media posts have contributed to alcohol use during the pandemic. Alcohol use disorder is a significant problem in the United States that has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. However, there are many ways to cope with these feelings, including finding healthy habits, talking to others, or taking a break. If you or a loved one have started drinking more during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gallus Medical Detox Centers can help. We provide the comfort of a residential facility with clinical expertise superior to most other detox facilities. Our centers offer safe, effective, and personalized treatment. Our board-certified physicians have extensive critical care and addiction experience, unique knowledge of how drugs move within the body, and expertise in managing other co-occurring disorders and physical illnesses. For more information on alcohol detox, call Gallus Medical Detox Centers at (866) 296-5242.