Alcohol Abuse in the Time of Covid – Solving Our Society’s Drinking Problem Starts With Each of Us
A Washington Post headline the other day caught my eye – Americans re-emerge after pandemic isolation: ‘Like the end of Prohibition’ . Headlines have been suggesting for a while that we should expect a wild re-opening when people are finally free of the pandemic isolation. Let’s party! But relating the end of the lockdown to the end of Prohibition seems like a non-sequitur to me. I guess the intended correlation is that people were restricted by government regulation during the Prohibition era, and also restricted by government regulation during the lockdowns. But the correlation I see between drinking culture during the pandemic and prohibition is the opposite of what’s suggested in that article. After years of not being free to choose to drink Americans celebrated personal freedom at the end of Prohibition, but in many instances during the isolation of the Covid pandemic lockdowns, many Americans have been increasingly trapped in a downward spiral of addiction to alcohol that is anything but freeing. Not all Americans of course. But far too many. Far too many people are now struggling with drinking problems for this to be considered anything other than a health crisis in its own right.
In January 2020, before the COVID lockdowns began, it was already reported that deaths related to alcohol abuse had doubled in 20 years in the United States. Just last week the Atlantic Magazine published an extensive article titled America Has a Drinking Problem, and back in September, there was a study published by RAND showing Alcohol consumption rising sharply during the pandemic, especially among women.
"The magnitude of these increases is striking….Between 2019 and now during the pandemic, men and women both reported increasing the frequency of their binge drinking episodes, …for women, that count rose by half."
Deadly binge drinking had doubled since the turn of the century, and then again during the pandemic lockdown, the numbers rose again by half for women. Those are dizzying statistics. Coming out of the pandemic isolation sounds less like the end of prohibition and more like staggering drunk out of a bar after last call.
These studies and statistics about the deadly increase in alcohol abuse come out every few months and they are shocking if people take notice, but most of us don’t react to the ups and downs in our own lives based on our concern about cultural trends. If you have been raised to think that alcohol is the appropriate condiment to the feast of life, whether sweet or sour, you will likely find it difficult if not undesirable to stop, even when the headlines suggest it might be time to reign it in. If you have always been told that the problem is not alcohol but alcoholics, then you will likely be uncomfortable seeing yourself as someone with a drinking problem. Even if the numbers are starting to stack up against you.
I had spent years thinking I needed to drink and there was plenty of encouragement last year to lift a glass and drink away the pandemic lockdown doldrums. If you were working from home with a flexible schedule – why not start the online happy hour at 10 am? New apps and delivery services made it easy to stay lubricated without stepping outside your front door. You could easily order your cocktails to go or delivered. The message was constantly coming at us on social media –
"Locked in and stressed out? Raise a glass and relax! What could be cooler in the time of COVID? Has there ever been a better reason to drink?"
During the Covid pandemic, the manufacture and sale of alcohol increased measurably not just because of the social media and online marketing push to see day drinking as a cure for the pandemic blues, but as a result of governments that deemed alcohol an essential item, guaranteeing that liquor stores would remain open even in the strictest of lockdown periods, and people would feel justified and normal if they stockpiled booze like toilet paper. Not just in the United States but in most English-speaking countries. Yet we equate the end of the lockdown isolation to coming out of Prohibition … ???
In most English-speaking cultures Sobriety is a dirty word and Prohibition is the elephant in the room whenever the talk turns to sobriety as a choice and not just a cure for late-stage alcoholism. There are far too few people who have even tried going sober for long enough of a time to know how liberating it actually is. Let your choices about whether alcohol is essential in your life be personal and informed by your experience not cultural imperative, cultural assumptions, or cultural prejudice. I personally thought that alcohol was essential long before it was deemed so in the first COVID-19 lockdown. I suspected that even if I wanted to I could never stop drinking or enjoy living sober. All the Covid lockdown drinking culture did was re-enforce what I already felt.
I had worried about my drinking for years but it was the first Covid-19 lockdown that scared me straight. I realized that it might well not be COVID-19 that I had to worry about but the empty bottles piling up. I have had a stunning realization at the role alcohol really played in my life. I always thought it was “just a habit” or “I liked the taste,” and as much as those things were true, alcohol was also a powerful drowner of my emotions. Life is full of ups and downs, and I drank for them all.
An upsetting conversation on the phone? Drink.
A celebration? Drink drink drink.
Uncomfortable in a crowd at a party? Oh yeah. Drink, please.
Bored? How about a drink?
Hungry, thirsty, happy, sad, up, down, let’s drink over every single thing.
I could make every single occasion, every situation, every up and every down and every everything –a reason to drink. But…if everything is a reason to drink, then there really are no reasons to drink. Follow me?
If I have gained one realization since going sober it’s this. There will ALWAYS be a reason to drink. Always. When it comes to drinking too much too often if COVID didn’t make me do it – something else would have. I drink not because of any particular situation – I drink to drink. That is addiction and when you become addicted to something like alcohol it’s time to stop. It’s time to try a new way of living. Before that life you love is no longer yours to live.
You can be free and enjoy the post lockdown party without alcohol in the mix. Come hang out with us for a while. We’re a different sort of online community – one that’ll open your mind to the possibility of enjoying life alcohol-free. It is quite simply one of the best things that you can do to take care of your health in these times of COVID-19.
Be free! Alcohol-free!
If you’re “sober curious” … If you are drinking too much too often and want to stop or take a break…or if you have stopped drinking and are trying to stick to sober! Talk to Us.
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Rethink the Drink
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