Alcohol use soars in the age of COVID

New data indicates that through the first eight months of the COVID-19 crisis, American adults have sharply increased their consumption of alcohol, drinking on more days per month, and to more significant excess. Heavy drinking among women, significantly, has soared.

The RAND Corporation released a study supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which compared adults’ drinking habits from 2019 to surveying 1,540 adults. Based on the results, addiction treatment professionals say they’re concerned that people may be choosing to self-medicate their mental health symptoms brought about by the pandemic. The numbers in the United States reveal the real stress that COVID is placing on the community, not just individuals who had previously had challenges with alcohol misuse.

As stay-at-home orders began in some US states as a mitigation strategy for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) transmission, Nielsen reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with one year before; online sales increased 262% from 2019. Three weeks later, the World Health Organization warned that alcohol use during the pandemic might exacerbate health concerns and risk-taking behaviors. Increased stress is the new reality for everyone learning to live with the new realities of the pandemic. Individuals who had healthy support and coping skills before the pandemic are experiencing challenges as the COVID stretches into its eighth month, with no end in sight.

Between 2019 and now, during the pandemic, both men and women have reported an increase in the frequency of binge drinking episodes, defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours. For women, that count rose by an alarming half.

During the shutdown, innovative ways capitalize on people’s feelings of anxiety and fear have increased, with online app sales connecting consumers with liquor stores for home delivery. One such company reported that they saw a growth surge of 700–800% during the early lockdown days. According to a report from Nielsen, online alcohol sales and alcohol delivery rose nationwide once the lockdown orders began, which was published by QZ. This trend demonstrates a disturbing trend of increasing alcohol consumption at home in self-isolation.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is when people who have consistent alcohol issues continue to drink to excess. A person with AUD has a strong desire for alcohol, difficulty controlling its use, and continues using it even though it causes him significant distress and impairment. Even with severe consequences, the person places a higher priority on alcohol than the events and commitments in his life. With continued use, his or her tolerance to alcohol builds up.

Answer the following questions to determine if you may have an issue with you alcohol consumption.

  1. Do you sometimes have difficulty controlling how much you drink or for how long you drink alcohol?
  2. Have you made unsuccessful attempts to cut down your drinking?
  3. Do you sometimes spend a significant amount of time drinking or recovering from drinking?
  4. Has your alcohol use had any negative consequences at home, school, or work? (Have you ever lost time off work because of your drinking?)
  5. Has your alcohol use had any negative consequences to your relationships or social life? (Have you ever concealed how much you drink? Has anyone ever commented on your drinking?)
  6. Have you continued to use despite any negative consequences?
  7. Have you put off things or neglected to do things because of your alcohol use? (Have you ever disappointed your family or friends? Have you ever missed a family event?)
  8. Do you occasionally have strong cravings for alcohol?
  9. Has your tolerance for alcohol increased? Are you able to drink more than you did before?
  10. Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms the next day after drinking? (Have you ever been shaky or sweaty that evening or the next day?)
  11. Has your alcohol use led to any dangerous situations? (Have you ever been charged with impaired driving?)

If you answered yes to 2–3 = Mild alcohol abuse; 4–5 = Moderate alcohol abuse; 6 or more = Severe alcohol abuse. You should always consult your physician when making decisions about your health.

If you are located in Missouri, help is available at Assisted Recovery Centers of America, LLC at no-cost. To learn more visit or call 314–645–6840 ext. 2 to schedule your assessment.

If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1–800–662-HELP (4357) or visit, SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

I am a psychotherapist who writes about mental health, addiction, recovery and the impact of substance use from personal experience. Views are my own.

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