While binge drinking has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are better ways to cope

binge drinking

A concerning trend has been emerging since the arrival of COVID-19. Alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking, has risen sharply. A recent study from RAND Corporation looked at the pattern of alcohol use and the consequences on Americans during the lockdown and global pandemic. One disturbing finding according to data collected on 6,000 Americans was that women had a 41% increase in heavy drinking episodes defined as four or more drinks within a couple of hours. When compared to last year, the frequency of alcohol use – measured in days per month that alcohol was consumed – increased 14% overall among adults over the age of 30 as well as a 17% increase among women.

The RAND study is not the only research uncovering this startling news. A Blue Cross Blue Shield COVID-19 National Pulse Survey also found an overall increase of 23% in alcohol consumption since the pandemic began. Another survey by The Recovery Village found that 55% of those asked reported an increase in alcohol use during the past month.

The leading contributors to this significant increase in alcohol consumption among American adults are attributed to stress, anxiety, and isolation during the shutdown and coronavirus pandemic. It was also noted that because of COVID-19 restrictions, this prevented people from attending counseling and 12-step program meetings, vital lifelines for helping alcoholics and problem drinkers cope with alcohol addiction even during normal times.

Unfortunately, Americans are resorting to alcohol as a coping mechanism during these difficult times. But when alcohol use increases, this leads to other societal problems.  The problems found from the RAND study also included reports of increased physical, social, intrapersonal, impulsive, and interpersonal problems related to drinking.

Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety also jumped during the pandemic and many of those afflicted resorted to excessive use of alcohol. Physical ailments related to heavy drinking include heart disease, hypertension, and respiratory disorders, leading to a poorer outlook if those same individuals contract coronavirus.

Steps for reducing stress without alcohol

Global pandemics with lockdowns, job losses, and business and school closures have fueled a tremendous amount of stress for everyone. It’s no surprise that chronic long-term stress can result in both mental and physical ailments from lack of concentration, focus, and energy to increasing blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

Some of us handle stress in healthier ways than others. For those more likely to drown their feelings by drinking, there are better stress-related coping techniques. Finding healthy stress-reducing techniques and activities are part of the solution for coping while we ride out this pandemic.

Here are some solutions to help anyone struggling with stress and anxiety instead of turning to alcohol:

  • Get active – Not that you’ll be training for a marathon, but any movement throughout the day helps relieve stress. Taking a walk through a park, walking your dog, dancing to music, or doing yoga or light stretching, all help calm anxiety. The more movement you do, the greater the cumulative effect.
  • Listen to music – Music is a universal language for all of us. We each have our go-to songs we enjoy listening to helping to lessen our anxiety load. Listening to melodic tunes can ease tension, help us relax, and can remind of us our past happy memories.
  • Get involved with a hobby – If you already have a hobby, perfect. Nurture it and take time to fully enjoy it. If you are still discovering your hobby(s), that’s okay. Many of us have multiple hobbies; find one or two you like the most and make time to practice those activities.
  • Focus on breathing – When under a great deal of stress, stress hormones can affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During the stress response, breathing tends to be faster in an effort to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood to the body. By focusing on your breathing and utilizing breathing techniques, helps ease the elevated physiological changes occurring. By calming your body, you are better able to focus and think clearly helping you make better choices.
  • Have a healthy daily routine – Even when stress levels are low, healthy routines did daily help keep us stay focused and more in control of our lives. Healthy routines might include waking up at the same time each day, eating three consistent meals a day, exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, having a regular bedtime routine, and refraining from unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking excessively.
  • Be able to identify your source of stress – Take a moment to think about what is stressing you out the most. Being able to pinpoint your source of stress gives you perspective and a certain amount of power over it, whether it’s a work deadline, a pile of laundry to put away, or an argument with a loved one.
  • Identify what you can control – Some stressors are out of our control but many we do have some degree of control. If it’s a sink full of dishes, decide to work on it for 10 minutes to at least make some headway. Or asking for help with certain situations is another way to help unload some stress.
  • Reach out to your social support – Whether your social support includes family, close friends, or a neighbor down the street, take advantage and time to connect with these individuals frequently. In our technological world, reaching out through social media, with a phone call, or an actual in-person visit can make a tremendous difference in feeling less stressed and better able to face the day without depending on alcohol.
While binge drinking has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are better ways to cope
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi