Q: I have been drinking a bit more since this pandemic started. Many of my friends have too. I am having a harder time not drinking every day. What should I do?
A: The first step is recognizing that you may have a drinking problem.
1) Seek social connections.
2) Prioritize healthy coping mechanisms.
3) Increase support and seek additional help as needed.
In the early months of the pandemic, alcohol sales (in person and online) increased with respect to previous years. And it has likely continued, meaning an increase in people consuming alcohol. A recent survey suggests an increase in alcohol use of nearly 14% among surveyed adults. This may be due to the use of alcohol to unwind, decrease stress, and cope with changes related to the pandemic. There are lower barriers to use of alcohol in contrast to other substances, so this may play a role as well. And some have even integrated alcohol and other substances into their daily routine, a way to divide the day from the night.
What if I want to cut back on my drinking?
Think about the role that alcohol plays in your life. For most of us it helps us to connect to others, manage stress, and deal with difficult emotions (such as anxiety/depression). But there are healthier ways to work through these issues than using alcohol.
1) Increase social connections. Many times drinking happens in order to connect with others (drinking games, even via zoom). Engage with friends/peers/colleagues/family using #StaySMART guidelines. You may choose to partake with non-alcoholic beverages or avoid situations where you would normally drink alcohol.
2) Find healthy coping mechanisms. For sleep, follow good sleep hygiene – believe it or not alcohol actually disrupts sleep throughout the night. It can also increase anxiety and depression. And it is even thought to decrease immunity with prolonged use. For stress relief, you may try aerobic activity (running, swimming, walking), deep breathing or meditating. You may also modify your environment by removing alcohol from the home, refusing alcohol if in #StaySMART social situations, and even taking breaks from social media/the internet.
3) Seek additional help if you need it. For many, anxiety and depression have increased and it is important that you reach out not only to your network for support, but also your primary care provider (PCPs) or mental health provider, if you need additional treatment for your mental health. PCPs and mental health providers can also help you to connect to effective treatments for alcohol use as well as substance use disorders. They can either offer treatments and/or your clinical care team can help connect you to additional supports. For those with a history of alcohol or substance use, the pandemic may also predispose people to relapse. Finding previous forms of support (such as groups and non-substance related social events are critical in either case). If you do feel you have a problem with your drinking, either new or re-emerging, please do seek help. Many services have moved to online formats and there is no shame in seeking help.
How do I know if I have a problem with drinking?
-Are you often preoccupied with drinking?
-Have you had times when you drank more than you desired?
-Have you had a hard time cutting down on drinking?
-Has drinking interfered with your work, home, or social life?
-Has the number of drinks you are having increased?
If you are answering yes to any of these questions, your drinking is likely concerning. Please seek the appropriate resources and support as noted below.
-Call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service, available at 1-800-662-HELP. Connect with a counselor who can help you find treatment near you and discuss your alcohol use with you.
-Use the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) alcohol treatment navigator to help you find therapists, providers, and programs.
-Call the Partnership to End Addiction. You can text or call (services also in Spanish). Responses are given within 24 hours.
-If you or your loved one are in crisis or need support, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
As much as people joke about having a drink during a meeting or wine o’ clock, this is a serious issue. The Nerdy Girls are committed to keeping you healthy and safe and there is no shame in seeking help. As we all face the massive stress of this pandemic together, let’s commit to supporting one another in both physical and mental wellness.
Those Nerdy Girls