drinking too much during the coronavirus quarantine

If you find yourself on your third cocktail before noon and wondering if you’re drinking too much during the coronavirus quarantine, you’re not alone.

Booze, it seems, is the go-to stress reliever during COVID-19. According to The Associated Press [1], “U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages rose 55% in the week ending March 21, according to market research firm Nielsen. Spirits like tequila, gin and pre-mixed cocktails led the way, with sales jumping 75% compared to the same period last year. Wine sales were up 66% while beer sales rose 42%.” In addition, the report adds, online alcohol sales were up 243 percent during that period.

Across the nation, as the coronavirus has led to quarantines both self-imposed and government-mandated, Americans are stocking up on the necessities to wait it out. Toilet paper? Check. Dry goods? Check. Cleaning products? Check.

Booze? Check: “Drizly, an alcohol-delivery service based in Boston, said its growth rate of sales had increased by 50 percent since news of the virus began to spread,” according to a mid-March report by The New York Times [2]. “In Seattle, Chicago and Boston, sales of wine, beer and liquor this week were up 300 to 500 percent compared to sales in January, according to the company.”

At least 46 states, as of this writing [3], have shut down businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19, many of them outlets of recreation and leisure. State and federal parks have been shut down, and large gatherings are prohibited. There’s little to do, it seems … except drink. A whole lot of people may very well be concerned that they’re drinking too much during the coronavirus quarantine, and that has the potential to be a problem down the road.

A Problem Before COVID-19

drinking too much during the coronavirus quarantineTo be fair, the alcohol consumption habits of Americans was already problematic before the coronavirus. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) [4], “In 2018, 26.45 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month; 6.6 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.”

Other figures to keep in mind, according to the NIAAA:

  • According to the 2018 (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older had alcohol use disorder (the scientific/medical term for alcoholism). In other words, 5.6 percent of all Americans ages 18 and older meet the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism.
  • However, only 1.13 million people received alcoholism treatment in the previous year of the survey — 7.9 percent of 14.4 million.
  • “An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States” behind tobacco and poor diet/physical inactivity.
  • In 2014, alcohol played a role in 31 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities.
  • In 2010, it’s estimated that “alcohol misuse” cost the United States $249 billion.

What, then, has the coronavirus done to those numbers? It’s impossible to say, given that America is still in the middle of the pandemic, but while quarantined at home, with the stress of a faltering economy, the threat of job loss and the unknown future of COVID-19, Americans are clearly turning to any vice they can in order to cope: alcohol, weed, porn and junk food, according to Forbes [5].

And at least some of those habits are cause for concern: Speaking to the British newspaper The Independent [6], Dr. Aiysha Malik, a technical officer at the World Health Organization Europe’s mental health and substance abuse department, said that alcohol is an “unhelpful coping strategy” that “can make things worse.”

Drinking Too Much During the Coronavirus Quarantine: How Much Is ‘Too Much?’

To truly take stock of whether you’re drinking too much, it’s important to set a baseline, and the NIAAA can help with that. The “standard drink,” according to the NIAAA [7], consists of:

  • A 12 oz. beer, which is roughly 5 percent alcohol;
  • 8-9 oz. of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol);
  • 5 oz. glass of wine (12 percent alcohol);
  • 5 oz. of liqueur (brandy, cognac, etc.), which is roughly 40 percent alcohol; and
  • 5 oz., or a shot, of liquor.

It’s important to note that the amount of alcohol varies according to brand, bottler and serving side, but that’s the baseline. So what, then, are the recommended allowances for alcohol consumption? Well, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans [8], moderate drinking consists of “up to 1 drink per day for women of legal drinking age and up to 2 drinks per day for men of legal drinking age.” Even then, according to the NIAAA [9], moderate drinking is discouraged if individuals are:

  • Taking medications that interact with alcohol
  • Managing a medical condition that can be made worse by drinking
  • Underage
  • Planning to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
  • Participating in activities that require skill, coordination, and alertness
  • Recovering from alcohol use disorder or unable to control the amount they drink
  • Pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

The NIAAA goes on to point out that two area of concern include binge drinking, “a pattern … that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men — in about 2 hours”; and heavy alcohol use, which “is defined as more than 4 drinks on any day for men or more than 3 drinks for women.”

Drinking excessively, the organization points out, “increases your risk of harmful consequences, including (alcohol use disorder). The more drinks on any day and the more heavy drinking over time, the greater the risk.”

Are You Drinking Too Much During the Coronavirus Quarantine? Probably

drinking too much during the coronavirus quarantineClearly, someone is drinking all the excess booze that’s flying off the shelves. And if you’re worried that you’re drinking too much during the coronavirus quarantine, then perhaps it’s time to take stock of your own consumption. (It should go without saying that those who don’t have a problem, don’t often contemplate whether they do.)

That may not be easy. After all, when it’s one of the few coping mechanisms available, many are loathe to distance themselves from it. But keep in mind there’s a huge difference between being unwilling to stop drinking during the quarantine and being unable to stop. Figuring out the difference can be tricky, especially if you’re using the excuse that you’re unwilling to disguise the fact that, at your core, you don’t see how you’ll be able to make it without booze to take the edge off.

So what can you do to evaluate your coronavirus drinking habits? Writing for The New York Post, Suzy Weiss has a few suggestions [10]:

  • “Count the empty cans — or bottles. ‘If your nightly two beers becomes four beers, you may be self-medicating,’ says psychologist Peter Provet, the president and CEO of Odyssey House, a network of in-patient rehab facilities in New York.”
  • Take stock of your physical reaction to your drinking. Weiss points out that “increased tolerance, and intense hangover symptoms like sharp headaches, nausea and sweating, could indicate a bigger problem than cabin fever.”
  • Ask yourself: Is booze a central component of your coronavirus plan? Those with a problem, she quotes Provet as saying, often elevate drinking to the highlight of their quarantined days: “You stop being interested in other activities, like hobbies, work or checking in on friends,” Provet says. “If you’re choosing to abuse alcohol while you have other important tasks at hand, that may be an indication that you have a problem.”
  • Has alcohol become a nightly ritual? Speaking to the UK publication Metro [11], one anonymous individual talked about how the coronavirus quarantine has blurred the lines between routine and reward: “‘I’m a journalist and working in this news environment, it just takes the edge of everything,’ he said. ‘Usually my relaxing time is in the car commuting home, but now I’m at home it’s hard to switch off. You associate that drink at night with pleasure and after these last few weeks, having a couple of glasses with Netflix has been my escape … It’s kind of a reward for getting through it, and it is something that in normal times I definitely wouldn’t do.”
  • And finally, if you’re as concerned about buying enough booze as you are food and other necessities, chances are that the coronavirus pandemic has skewed your priorities.

So What To Do?

If you’re concerned that you’re drinking too much during the coronavirus quarantine, it may be time for some self-evaluation. Not everyone who drinks excessively is an alcoholic or ever becomes one … but all alcoholics have, at some point, drank excessively. The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are wreaking havoc on patterns of all kinds, including those of Americans who consume alcohol, so first things first:

  • Don’t freak out. The coronavirus has everyone on edge, and in these trying times, even the slightest of problems can seem like a major crisis. If you find yourself staring at a wastebasket full of empties in the morning, don’t give in to despair. It just means you have some thinking to do.
  • Rearrange your schedule. If you’ve fallen into a routine where you pour your first drink at noon, then substitute something else for that first one. Call a friend, or jump on a Zoom chat with a coworker. Break up the monotony that leads to thoughtless consumption of one beverage after another.
  • Rearrange your work space. If you have a home bar, or a well-stocked liquor cabinet, or a refrigerator full of beer, don’t set up your work area in the adjacent room. Make it more difficult to reach over and grab a cold one by doing your work on the patio, or upstairs, or anywhere that will force you to go to more difficult measures to grab a drink.
  • Set your sights on a new habit, especially a healthier one. “Use this as an opportunity to come through the other side even healthier and mentally stronger," says Chris Raine of Australia’s Hello Sunday Morning program [12]. “Finding a way to use online resources around meditation, yoga, around health and experiment with different things daily. Pick a project like learning a language or reading more — whatever’s going to be a positive addition to your life. Try to find something that you can say, ‘This is the one habit I got out of Covid.'"
  • “Treat” yourself in other ways. Psychotherapist Liz Horsman told Metro [11] that incorporating kindness toward the most important person in your life — yourself — can go a long way. “Create a great self-care routine,” she suggests. “Take long baths, find a place in your home where you can have alone time. Eat nice things. Create a new workout routine — there is so much online right now.”
  • Finally: If there’s a problem, don’t ignore it. If you’ve thought that you might be drinking more during the coronavirus quarantine, and you’ve discovered that cutting back or cutting it out altogether is proving to be more problematic than you thought, then do something now, before it grows into a bigger conundrum. There are dozens of online resources to give you more information about alcoholism and drinking problems, and you might even find attending a virtual meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous via Zoom to be both useful and informative.

And if you find that you have a serious problem such as alcoholism — what better time to get help for it than right now? After all, what do you have to lose? Nothing, except a drinking habit that COVID-19 has exacerbated. What do you have to gain? Take it from us: Sobriety isn’t so bad, and if we can make it through to the other side of the coronavirus without picking up a drink or a drug, you can, too.

SOURCES

[1]: https://apnews.com/c407ecb931c6c528b4cceb0ecc216f0c

[2]: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/us/coronavirus-alcohol-sales.html

[3]: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/states-shut-essential-businesses-map/story?id=69770806

[4]: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

[5]: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/04/06/americans-are-excessively-eating-drinking-smoking-pot-playing-video-games-and-watching-porn-while-quarantined/#4d9822d9404e

[6]: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-alcohol-world-health-organisation-drugs-addiction-mental-health-lockdown-a9428546.html

[7]: https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/how-much-is-too-much/What-counts-as-a-drink/Whats-A-Standard-Drink.aspx

[8]: https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-9/

[9]: https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/how-much-is-too-much/Is-your-drinking-pattern-risky/Drinking-Levels.aspx

[10]: https://nypost.com/2020/04/01/are-you-drinking-too-much-during-coronavirus-lockdown/

[11]: https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/27/worried-much-drinking-lockdown-12466362/

[12]: https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/drinking-too-much-in-isolation-alcohol-covid/12128890