• Danielle Ibelema, MD

Using Alcohol to Cope with The Pandemic

"We cannot change anything unless we accept it.” - Carl Jung


In a certain light the pandemic has highlighted and worsened preexisting dynamics in our communities and within ourselves. We know that there has been in increase in reported anxiety and depressive symptoms among all age groups. And in an ideal world, each individual in need of mental health care would have been given access without difficulty.


We are not living that ideal yet, and so many adults turned to their usual "tried and true" coping mechanisms to make sense of and to exist through a pandemic. Some turned inward into a fantasy land pretending that COVID was not real and could not possible affect them. Others became overly productive, and buried themselves in doing. Then there are individuals that turned to alcohol or other substances to cope, and perhaps to avoid the anxiety or stress that the present reality provided. A study done in 2020 showed that up to 60% of adults in the United States reported drinking more alcohol during the pandemic.1



Why Is Drinking Too Much A Problem?


In the United States drinking alcohol is a socially acceptable substance to use, abuse and lean on in times of need. The social acceptance of it, unfortunately doesn't soften the impact on the body and mind. High alcohol use is associated with fatty liver disease, liver cirrhosis, dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression and suicidality.

Yet, it's place in our society makes it easier for individuals to drink excessively, and more difficult for one to recognize that a problem exists. Many who would not think to use illicit substances, may be able to rationalize the abuse of alcohol because it's legal and the presence of alcohol in homes, grocery stores and at social events is the norm.


Those with difficulties with alcohol can have a hard time admitting that there is a problem.

Often there is the mentality that an addiction to alcohol is somehow different from any other type of addiction. Addiction and substance abuse are considered to be dirty words that do not belong to a certain class of people or it's reserved for "those people" over there, but not the well intended "decent" person looking back at you in the mirror. Yet, addiction is not as selective and creative as our biases. Addiction cares little about one's neighborhood, academic achievement, intellect, labels or character.




How Do You Know If You're Drinking Too Much?


If you read this and find that the contents resonate with you, please seek out help with a medical professional. Other signs that help is needed include:


1. Craving alcohol

2. Having difficulty controlling the amount of alcohol consumed

3. Having difficulty cutting back

4. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the use is stopped.

5. Negative impact to mood, sleep, home or professional life

6. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts






References


1. Grossman, E. R., Benjamin-Neelon, S. E., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adults. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(24), 9189. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17249189