The Covid Alcoholic
A steep rise in pandemic drinking has created a new breed of problem drinker — the Covid Alcoholic. And as you might suspect, it isn’t at all pretty.
Creating the Covid Alcoholic
It’s nearly impossible to quantify the recent rise in pandemic drinking. With bars shut down most people do their excessive drinking at home. We do know though that nothing good comes from home alone drinking. And even in the few places where bars are open, people are suffering from the one-two punch of being “overly stressed and afraid to go out.”
That’s the finding of addiction expert Melissa Caldwell-Engle. And Caldwell-Engle is certainly qualified enough to know. After all, she’s both Executive Director of The Ross Institute for Psychological Trauma and the Clinical Director and Co-Founder of Texas-based Healing Springs Ranch addiction treatment center.
“People feel helpless and out of control in today’s world,” Caldwell-Engle told KXII. “And the stress of social isolation will open up old wounds where you felt similarly helpless and out of control.”
That stress can also take a physical toll. In fact, Caldwell-Engle said when stress hormones kick in they begin to “tear up” the digestive system, the gastrointestinal system and the reproductive system. And those complications are only exacerbated by drinking alcohol.
“Catastrophizing in our minds and having mini panic attacks triggers our stress response,” she said. And with the whole world on edge from Covid, catastrophizing and panic attacks are becoming more and more commonplace. Stressed people tend to drink. Lots. And the pandemic drinking is creating a whole new class of alcoholic — the Covid Alcoholic.
Seems Americans have found drinking to be a great way to cope with the global coronavirus pandemic. A really great way. In fact, CNN reports alcohol sales for the past three months have grown by a whopping 27%.
Like cocktails, the rises are mixed. Wine Business found a 32% rise in off-premise sales of spirits, while wine and beer sales have respectively increased 26% and 17% over the same period in 2019.
Budget beer sales seem to be especially brisk, says CNN, especially for brands such as Busch Light, Miller Lite and Natural Light. Why? Price and familiarity. People like what they’re used to. They also like to save money. And if you’re drinking more, it only makes sense to choose something that costs less.
More drinking has also created a larger market for lower-calorie options. That’s helped drive sales of White Claw and other hard seltzers. In fact, hard seltzer sales reached nearly a billion dollars in the period stretching from March 7 to May 30. Compare that with $1.5 billion in sales through all of 2019.
Still, hard seltzer’s got nothing on beer, especially when the holidays roll around. Heck, Americans dropped a cool billion dollars on beer over the Memorial Day Weekend alone!
It also seems people prefer to be served right at home. At least if Drizly’s figures are any indication. Bloomberg says the alcohol delivery service is reporting a 400% increase in sales. And it’s not just during the weekend either.
“With more and more consumers working from home,” says the company, “sales have continued to distribute across the entire week.”
Or, as one analyst put it, “every night is Friday night.”
How Not to Be a Covid Alcoholic
People have been using liquor to deal with stress since cavemen made hooch. And it’s unlikely that’s going to stop anytime soon. For some folks relaxing with a favourite drink can even provide some short-term benefits, especially during these uncertain times.
“If people are having a lot of fear about the health and safety of their loved ones, drinking provides a temporary reprieve from those thoughts and emotions,” says psychologist Becky Ponting, a University of Alberta counsellor who often helps students concerned about their alcohol use.
But it doesn’t take long before short-term benefits beget long-term problems. Just ask any alcoholic. They’ve all seen one drink become twenty. They’ve also seen what twenty drinks can do to a person. It’s not a good look.
Heavy imbibing can easily lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and restlessness, points out Ponting. It can also disrupt sleep and decrease the effectiveness of some medications. When that drinking becomes chronic, it can complicate pre-existing health conditions, including diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure.
Research has also shown that alcohol can impair the function of immune cells in the lungs and upper respiratory system.
“It’s something to keep in mind in the middle of this pandemic,” she told Medical Xpress.
But it’s drinking to address stress that has Ponting most alarmed.
“Although drinking can change how we feel in the moment, there are drawbacks if it is used as our only tool for coping,” she said. “Social isolation may last months. So we want to think about the toll extra alcohol can take on our bodies and overall well-being. It’s crucial to consider what will keep us healthy long-term.”
“Ask yourself if your drinking has increased since social isolation started. If it has, take a moment to reflect on the pros and cons and whether that’s working for you.”
Ponting advises we begin by completing the sentence: “If I have a drink right now, I will feel (blank).”
“By filling in that end of the phrase, it gets to the root of the need you are trying to fill and that can help you see through cravings,” she says. “For instance, if the phrase is, ‘I will feel like I’m having fun,’ well, how can you have fun without the alcohol? If the phrase is, ‘I will feel less afraid,’ then you might want to consider some counselling to help get to the root of that anxiety.”
The concept that can also be applied to other risky habits such as online shopping, gaming, overeating or smoking.
“These behaviours provide a sense of enjoyment,” she says. “And right now we are all looking for some kind of diversion and relief. But they are healthiest when used only occasionally. If they make up the bulk of your day, you could run into trouble.”
Big trouble. Again, just ask any alcoholic.