The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly contributed to increased levels of stress and isolation for most individuals. Alcohol sales and consumption have been on the rise, leading to more cases of alcohol use disorders and even deaths. The impact of these pandemic-related increases in substance use over time is immense, so understanding the reasons, risks, and reduction strategies can be beneficial.
Alcohol Addiction as the Fourth Leading Preventable Cause of Death in the U.S.
During the pandemic, excessive drinking has become the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. The rise of alcohol addiction has also brought on more public health concerns, such as increased violence and sexually transmitted diseases.
Research shows that COVID-19 has impacted alcohol consumption in two ways. First, due to stress-related or financial difficulties, social isolation, and uncertainty about the future, more people consume higher quantities of alcohol. Secondly, the legality and availability of alcohol make it a more highly used substance than other drugs.
Other Alcoholism-Related Health Concerns
Frequent and heavy drinking has been observed in high numbers among women during the COVID-19 pandemic. When school shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, and job losses happened, women were a hard-hit demographic. Women were often the ones to take up additional childcare responsibilities, causing anxiety and stress to increase. This caused a mental health crisis, and many used alcohol to self-medicate.
A related health concern is alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) among women. Historically, ALD had a higher prevalence among men, but since the beginning of the pandemic, ALD rates among women have been rapidly increasing. Even though women tend to consume less alcohol when compared to men, they are more susceptible to developing ALD.
During the pandemic, women reported higher rates of changes in productivity, sleep, mood, and health-related concerns. Women with children under age 18 are a group with traditionally higher levels of anxiety and stress. Alcohol use only worsens the mental health of women.
The Increase in Alcohol-Related Mortality
Researchers also found that deaths related to alcohol abuse increased dramatically during the pandemic, and young adults 25 to 44 years old experienced the steepest upward trend in alcohol-related mortality.
People who die from alcohol abuse-related causes tend to also have poor social determinants of health, such as unemployment or lower socioeconomic status. These factors make it harder for them to access healthcare and get treatment, either for addiction itself or its resulting health risks.
Raising Awareness About the Harm of Alcohol Consumption
It is important for people who experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges to find healthy coping strategies, especially during the pandemic. There must be more community-based awareness campaigns about the potential harm of using alcohol to cope with mental health issues.
To reduce alcohol consumption, even small changes can help. For example, individuals should examine their drinking behaviors and explore their family history for signs of alcohol abuse in light of mental health risks. With this self-exploration, individuals can take steps to manage problematic relationships with alcohol.
All individuals should stay within the guidelines for alcohol consumption given by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). People should consume no more than two standard drinks (5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of spirits, 12 ounces of beer) per day for men, and one standard drink per day for women. For pregnant women, there is no safe limit on alcohol use.
People who are currently recovering from alcohol use disorder may benefit from telehealth and online support group meetings. Being in a community with people who are going through similar challenges can be very empowering. It also helps combat isolation and stigma related to alcohol addiction.
Building a Support System
No one needs to struggle with alcohol use disorder alone. There is an increasing number of support options for those with addictions. Aside from rehab, one can find ongoing treatment and therapy services online or through various in-person options, from groups to one-on-one therapy sessions.
Family and friends who stand by their loved ones’ side and continue to motivate them through the ups and downs of recovery are great resources for support. Showing vulnerability is a sign of deep trust. Allowing family members to be active participants in one’s recovery process provides immense benefits. Recovering individuals can also invite them to support group meetings or family counseling.
Those in recovery should consider regularly attending support groups like Al-Anon or other local groups in their community. These may be run by nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and government-funded agencies.
Lastly, people who are not addicted to alcohol but realize their need to cut back on their consumption can benefit from learning harm reduction skills. For example, eat a healthy meal and drink plenty of water before consuming alcohol, or commit to a lower threshold for alcohol consumption. Harm reduction practices reduce overdose deaths, fatal traffic incidents, and unsafe sexual practices. They provide support in the right direction if and when people choose to quit.
If you or a loved one is looking for a good addiction treatment center for alcohol use disorder, consider Laguna Shores Recovery Center. We teach stress-management skills as a way to deal with life stresses, like those brought on by the pandemic, as part of our programs. With these skills, you have a chance to build deeper relationships that may impact you in the long term. At Laguna Shores, we provide many programs and therapies as part of our customizable addiction treatment plans. With medication-assisted detox and one-on-one therapy sessions, our clients will acquire the skills needed to prevent relapses. Our experienced mental health professionals and compassionate staff know the value of stress management and mental health awareness. Our alumni programs offer stellar aftercare and connect you with a lifelong community of recovering individuals. Call 866-934-5276 to discover how you can be part of our community.