Drinking during COVID-19

When governors across the U.S. were shutting down states due to COVID -19 they labeled liquor stores as essential businesses.  Many of us laughed at this and said jokingly, “Oh yah, liquor stores are essential lol.”  The reality is that liquor stores were not designated as essential just because people like to drink.

They were designated essential because many people drink so much that if they stopped suddenly it would be dangerous. Most of us consider alcohol as a pretty safe substance after all it wouldn’t be legal if it wasn’t, right?

The reality however is very different. Alcohol can actually be more dangerous to detox from than heroin is.  Someone who is detoxing from heroin feels like they have a really bad case of the flu but as long as they stay hydrated they will usually be ok (should still detox under medical supervision). 

Someone detoxing from alcohol however risks experiencing Delirium Tremens (DT’s). Someone experiencing DT’s may experience shaking, confusion, high blood pressure, fever, and hallucinations to name a few symptoms. They can also experience cardiac issues. The bottom line, alcohol is actually the most dangerous substance to detox from.

Now most of us are not going to become severe alcoholics from this pandemic but reports indicate that there has been a significant increase in alcohol use during the pandemic. 

After all, we’ve been isolated at home either by ourselves or with small groups for a long time. Things can get pretty boring and a few drinks can definitely make it less boring. While there is no initial harm in having a drink or two, ask yourself if the frequency of your drinking has increased? 

Has the amount of your drinking increased?  If you answered yes to either or both of these questions ask yourself if you are beginning to look forward to a drink? Ask yourself what that drink will do for you and more specifically how will it change the way you feel?  You see the reason we use substances is very simple. They change our feelings and they do it quickly.

So what changed feelings do you experience when you drink? There is nothing wrong with wanting to be less bored, less anxious, happier, etc., the risk however is that if we begin to recognize alcohol as a quick path to these desired feelings there is a pull to turn to alcohol more quickly and more often. 

So what’s the harm? Besides the physical damage excessive alcohol use dues to your body, there are other negative psychological consequences. For example, the more you use alcohol (or other substances) to change your mood the less likely you will be able to change your mood without them. In addition, as your body develops a tolerance to alcohol you need to drink more to get the desired effect.

Eventually, however, your drinking just to feel normal. No one plans on becoming addicted to alcohol or another substance but it happens insidiously, little by little until one day you realize you’re no longer in control of your life, instead, the alcohol or substance is in control. The best solution is to avoid substance use completely, but if you aren’t going to do that at least pay attention so you can realize early on if your substance use is changing. 

Larry Blackwell, LCSW, AADC

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