Is Alcohol Use Spiking in Your Home?

If your answer is yes, you’re not alone. With many states considering liquor stores essential businesses, allowing home deliveries and take-out cocktails, alcohol use is on the rise. We’ve been conducting on-going research on alcohol consumption with respect to COVID-19. We are looking at its impact in both the general public and on individuals trying to change their drinking, and over half of our respondents to date have reported an increase in their drinking. The reasons given included losing a job, fear of getting the virus, boredom, no access to a gym or other healthy coping skills, having to postpone a big event, not being able to have elective surgery and more. The lack of structured time and routines like commuting to work may loosen boundaries of when it is okay to drink and how much one may choose to consume.

On the flip side, others may have limited or no access to alcohol due to assorted quarantine restrictions or closings. For some, this can be life-threatening. Withdrawal symptoms can lead to seizures and even loss of life for heavy drinkers. Any thoughts of detoxing should be done under medical supervision, whether on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

Alcohol is also known to decrease a person’s immune system health, potentially increasing susceptibility to COVID-19. Read this article by the World Health Organization for an overview of alcohol and COVID myths and facts.

Calls and Conversations Around Alcohol and COVID-19: What Parents Can Do

Our research also found that 19% of respondents decreased their use of alcohol. In many cases, being quarantined has allowed them the opportunity to reconsider their relationship with alcohol.  For example, our helpline received a text message from a parent wanting to know how best to help her son who was binge drinking at the outset of the pandemic, but has stopped for the last three weeks, no longer feeling stressed by work. In addition to ways to have productive conversations with him and to encourage healthy behaviors, we directed her to a text messaging program developed for those who may want to reduce or stop their drinking during this time. The program provides daily information and support messages that are targeted to heavy drinking both in general and as a result of COVID-19.

Consider medications that can help address alcohol cravings. These include disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone (ReVia), and Acamprosate (Campral). There are varying benefits and side effects, but they may be worth considering if your loved one is interested in cutting back or stopping alcohol use.

Several callers to our helpline have mentioned not only an increase in a loved one’s alcohol use, but also increased aggression. One parent shared that when her son lost his job, he drank a half a bottle of vodka as his means of coping. He passed out, and she took what was left and threw it out as part of her stance on not having substances in the home. When he realized that the bottle was empty, he became enraged. Fearful for her safety, she locked herself in the bathroom, reluctant to call the police. Our helpline specialist discussed the importance of developing a plan for physical and emotional safety, including ways to counteract aggression. Families in similar situations can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or access state resources for additional help.

Another parent working with one of our peer parent coaches shared that she impulsively purchased 10 cases of beer for her college-aged kids who suddenly returned home, citing that “they’re so used to playing beer pong and I didn’t want them to have nothing to do.” In addition to her concerns over her purchase and her sons’ drinking, she also noted that she had been drinking more as well. She felt overwhelmed by concerns for her sons’ futures and isolated from her friends despite Facetime. She noted that her own underlying anxiety was also spiraling.

They discussed the boomerang effect of alcohol and stress noting that drinking only reduces anxiety temporarily, and then it gets worse. They brainstormed what she could do to feel less anxious and to model healthier ways of coping for her sons (e.g. trying box breathing, using meditation apps like CALM and Headspace, getting outside into the sunshine for a few minutes each day, putting on her favorite dance music, taking a hot bath, etc.). She also agreed to try our text messaging program for parents with daily reminders related to self-care and useful tips during COVID-19.

Aside from short-term impacts, there are concerns that heavy drinking during COVID-19 can set up problems in the future. Researchers who have studied binge drinking during other health epidemics and natural disasters found a greater likelihood of alcohol use disorders within a year to two years after the event. This was “new” news for the parent being coached as she assumed binge drinking was “just something college kids did.” She and her coach discussed and roleplayed what a family discussion would entail on how alcohol was to be managed during the crisis.

Our helpline, parent coaches and our Text COVID program are just some of the resources families can use to address a loved one’s drinking. Please reach out if you need support.  We can be a sounding board for you, help build an action plan and direct you to other tools that families have found useful.