It’s almost been a year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. When the first lockdown began, it sparked a lot of changes in our lives. Suddenly, we were wearing masks to run our errands, working from home, and fighting over the last roll of toilet paper at the grocery store. Staying in became the norm, and our favorite businesses were closing down, some of them permanently. On top of it all, we were worried about the health of ourselves and our loved ones, with no idea how long this stressful situation would last.
With all the worry, fear and uncertainty the coronavirus brought with it, a lot of people started drinking more to try and cope. In fact, this is a pretty common response to catastrophic or traumatic events like a pandemic, war or natural disaster. After 9/11, there was an immediate and lasting increase in alcohol use among Manhattanites, with similar patterns seen in the South after Hurricane Katrina. It’s not surprising, since rises in problematic drinking are associated with increased stress and anxiety, which we are seeing again with COVID-19.
But unlike other traumatic events, COVID-19 is still happening. It isn’t a single moment in time that, when it’s over, we can try to process and put behind us — it’s this long, drawn-out episode that we still have to deal with on a daily basis. Although lockdown has ended and a vaccine has been developed, most of us are finding that “getting back to normal” is still a long way off. So we’re also seeing increased drinking due to the ongoing effects of social isolation, job insecurity, financial strain and health worries.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Increased drinking and relapse have been common throughout the pandemic, but there are ways you can curb your alcohol consumption and learn how to cope with the stress in a healthier way.
The first step is reaching out for help. If you’re already in recovery or part of a 12-step program, connect with your peers to talk about the problems you’re facing. You don’t have to go through this alone, and most programs offer online support groups that you can log in to from the comfort of your home. Or, if you need to get out of the house, check to see if in-person meetings are available in your area — some groups are gathering face-to-face again, following social distancing guidelines and mask-wearing mandates to keep participants safe.
If you’re not in a treatment program but want to get help for your drinking, don’t hesitate to reach out and make that first phone call. Treatment centers like Avalon Malibu have remained open with new policies in place to ensure the health and well-being of patients during COVID-19.
It’s also important to recognize harmful drinking patterns. Most people are surprised to hear that consuming four or five drinks within two hours constitutes binge drinking. When you’re feeling bored and stuck at home, it’s really easy to hit this threshold. But by learning how much is too much, paying attention to the amount you drink and setting a safe limit for yourself, you can become more conscious of your drinking habits and whether or not you need to cut down.
Of course, for those with addiction issues, this is easier said than done. That’s where step one comes in again — reach out for help when you need it, and reinforce healthy coping strategies with guidance from your peers, recovery team and support groups. A relapse doesn’t mean failure, especially during stressful times like the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s essential to regain a foothold in your recovery and utilize the support that’s available to you.
Don’t ignore mental health symptoms. You might be feeling more stressed, anxious and depressed than usual during the pandemic, and if ignored, these emotions can trigger a relapse or lead to problematic drinking. Now is the time to prioritize your mental health and address any symptoms you may be feeling, lest they continue to brew beneath the surface and stir up a crisis. To meet the growing need for mental health support, many mental health providers have made their services more accessible than ever with virtual care options and same-day appointments for mental health screening, therapy, counseling, medication management and more.
When it comes to maintaining your recovery, this is a crucial step that shouldn’t be overlooked. Your mental, physical and emotional health are all connected, and neglecting one can have a huge impact on your general well-being. Navigating the pandemic has been difficult for all of us, and there’s no shame in reaching out for help when you need it — prioritizing your mental health now will make a difference in the long run.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, and most of us are coping the best we can. But if you’re feeling stressed, bored, and at your wit’s end, don’t reach for a drink — reach for a phone or laptop instead and connect with your support network. If you need extra help to quit drinking or rekindle your recovery, you can also call Avalon Malibu today at (844) 857-5992 — our team of licensed mental health and addiction professionals are here to provide the support you need during this difficult time.