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Drinking Alcohol During The Coronavirus Pandemic
High levels of alcohol consumption is linked to multiple diseases, and it might also contribute to vulnerability to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Therefore, excessive drinking can increase your susceptibility to the COVID-19 virus and may even worsen the effects of it. This is because alcohol weakens your immune system.
Unfortunately, for most people (almost two-thirds), drinking has increased compared to consumption in pre-pandemic times.12 This is mostly a result of stress and boredom, as well as social isolation.
Research suggests that people consumed alcohol an average of 12.2 days and had 26.8 alcoholic drinks over the past 30 days. Meanwhile, 34.1 percent of them engaged in binge drinking behavior, and seven percent of them engaged in extreme binge drinking.
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans reported feeling under moderate to high stress for most of their time. And the COVID-19 crisis has only made this stress worse.
Women seem to be uniquely affected by COVID-19 related stresses. They have more health concerns, job loss, and changes to their sleep and productivity than men.
Mothers with children under 18 years old also have higher levels of anxiety than men with children of that age group and women who don’t have children. This is partially because they tend to handle most household tasks, caregiving, and child-rearing responsibilities.
Studies show that the psychological stress related to COVID-19 is associated with a greater number of drinks for women when they do drink. Both men and women have experienced an increase in their frequency of drinking. And women have increased their alcohol consumption by 41 percent since the start of the pandemic.
3 Myths About Coronavirus and Alcohol
Here are three common misconceptions about coronavirus and alcohol — with the real facts.
1. Myth: Alcohol kills coronavirus.
Drinking alcohol does not kill coronavirus. Drinking alcohol can make you more susceptible to COVID-19 because it weakens your immune system.
2. Myth: Alcohol is a good coping mechanism for COVID-19 stress.
While many people have increased their drinking to cope with the pandemic stress, it is not healthy. Drinking as a form of escapism or dealing with anxiety and depression is dangerous. Doing so can lead to alcoholism, which can take a serious toll on your health.
3. Myth: Alcohol is not as accessible due to bars being closed.
Alcohol sales have skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 crisis with more and more people ordering booze, picking it up, and drinking at home.
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How Alcohol Affects the Immune System
Alcohol takes a toll on your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.
When you drink alcohol, it goes into your stomach and small intestine where small blood vessels collect and carry it into your portal vein. This leads to your liver. Once it reaches your liver, enzymes — alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) — break it down.
How long it takes for your body to metabolize alcohol depends on several factors. These include how much alcohol you have consumed, your height, weight, gender, hydration level, food intake, and more. However, on average, it takes about one hour to metabolize a standard drink.
While drinking in moderation isn’t necessarily bad for your health, drinking too much can be harmful. Moderate drinking is considered to be two drinks or less in a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women.
Nearly 15 million people (14.5 million) 12 years old and up had suffered from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019. And about 95,000 percent of people (or about 68,000 men and 27,000 women) die alcohol-related deaths every year. Alcohol is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the country. It ranks just behind tobacco and poor diet/physical inactivity.
Drinking too much alcohol can have short-term effects that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of coordination
- Urge to speak
- Inability to speak coherently
- Decreased attention
- Poor memory
- Fast heartbeat
- Reddened skin
- Flushed face
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Uncontrolled eye movements
- Reduced responsiveness
- Lack of awareness
- Decreased motor skills
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Injuries (such as car crashes and drowning)
The long-term effects of alcohol include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Brain damage
- Liver damage
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Pancreas issues
- Increased risk of some cancers (breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon)
- Digestive issues
- Weakened immune system
- Learning problems (dementia)
- Social problems with personal relationships
- Financial implications
- Mental health issues (anxiety and depression)
- Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
Alcohol and Mental Health Issues
Alcohol and substance use are linked to depression. Because alcohol is a depressant, it can contribute to depressive bouts and depression. In turn, people may drink to cope with depression. It is a vicious cycle.
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Risks of Using Alcohol to Cope With Stress During COVID-19
Alcohol is a depressant, and depression is on the rise due to COVID-19 stresses and social isolation. Therefore, excessive alcohol use during the COVID-19 crisis is risky.
Healthier Ways to Cope
If you or someone you know is turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism, know that professional help is available.
Consider therapy or support groups to help you identify your stresses and unpack them in healthier ways. Practicing self-care is also important and can help you to feel better mentally and physically.
Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) & Treatment Options
The symptoms of alcohol addiction vary from person to person depending on factors including your health history. They also depend on how serious your addiction is. The symptoms of alcohol addiction include, but are not limited to, the following:
- You tend to think about alcohol a lot
- You drink alone
- You tend to lie about your drinking habits
- You find that alcohol gets in the way of your responsibilities at home and at work or school
- Alcohol hurts you financially or socially, but you continue to drink anyway
- Alcohol takes a toll on your physical or mental health, but you continue to drink anyway
- It’s difficult to quit drinking on your own
If you or a loved one has an alcohol addiction, do not try to detox alone. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are dangerous and can be deadly. Reach out to professional help. Inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities are available, as well as support groups and holistic healing programs.