Alcohol consumption is increasing rapidly during epidemics, especially among women

Joe Din felt a worrying pulse in his ears as he walked out of CVS and walked across the street to the liquor store. After losing his job during the epidemic, he had plenty of time to work. But he couldn’t shake how hopeless he felt, monotonous with his sense of purpose. And the liquor store was exactly where he left it. A small bottle of vodka won over her recovery.

In an age of epidemic, the state of uncertainty in the air. Now, new data shows that during the COVID-19 crisis, American adults have steadily increased alcohol consumption, drinking more days per month, and more and more. Heavy alcohol drinking has increased, especially among women.

The study, released Tuesday by the RAND Corporation and supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), compared adults’ drinking habits to 2019. In a nationally representative panel surveying 1,540 adults, participants were asked about consumption changes between spring 2019 and spring 2020, during the first peak of the virus.

Based on the results, experts say they are concerned about how people can reduce the pain and isolation from the epidemic.

“The intensity of these increases is striking,” Michael Pollard, the study’s lead author and a sociologist at RAND, told ABC. “People have depression, anxiety increases, [and] Alcohol consumption is often a way of dealing with these feelings. But depression and anxiety are also the consequences of drinking; It is this feedback loop where it amplifies the problem it is trying to address. ”

Between 2019 and now during the epidemic, both men and women reported an increase in the frequency of their binge drinking episodes, defined as five or more drinks for men and four for women within a few hours Or more drinks. For women, that count halved.

“Growing above average means that some people are increasing their binge drinking,” Pollard said. “This can be an often overlooked issue, especially for women, but it is a real concern.”

The study shows that not only has consumption increased, but respondents also say they have experienced more adverse effects as a result of their drinking.

Respondents were presented with 15 potentially negative outcomes and were asked to identify which was true for them. With no-yes-or-no-choice, “I have become miserable because of my drinking,” “I have felt guilty or ashamed because of my drinking,” “When I have drunk, I risked being silly Raised, “and” mine “my family’s drinking has hurt the family. ”

From 2019 to 2020, the average number of 15 questions during the epidemic caused women to answer “twice”, almost twice as much as last year’s two to three. In 2019, average men responded to four of the “yes” questions, compared to about five in 2020.

NIAAA Director Dr. George Cobb told ABC, “There is a history with events like 911, Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes and other catastrophes, that people then drink more,”. “Alcohol is a very effective painkiller. But when it wears off, this pain comes back with a vengeance.”

The 42-year-old Dinan has been in control of his drinking for the past seven years. He is now back on track, but the strain of the epidemic makes him harder than ever.

“It was found at a time when everything went well, and I didn’t know what to do,” Dinan said. “When you’re in recovery, you’re told that you shouldn’t be isolated, and now that’s exactly what we’ve been asked to do. We drink to hide feelings, to hide from life . We get isolated. Especially because of the addiction. Really gets advanced. Now people are isolated at home. And that presents a real challenge. ”

“Even when we’re doing well, for someone in recovery who’s doing really well, our demons return with stress, and can trigger relapse,” Cobb said.

Sarah Hepaulah, a writer and recovering alcoholic whose bestselling memoir, “Blackout: Reminders the Things That Drunk to Forget,” addresses substance abuse, clarifying the struggle and how to live for people and How hard it is to shut down. .

“The world took the rest of the coping mechanism away – and so you have this one thing and a kind of wicked charm in it,” Hepoleh told ABC. “I was so called by that voice of romantic doom – heading to the liquor store for ‘supplies’ – like it was a camping trip. And it was kind of me. I’m going on a camping trip from life Was. ”

This is a fascinating escape hatch from reality, experts say, especially when that reality begins to feel dystopian. That appeal, Rand’s data show, appears particularly strong for women.

“It is an ideal drug, especially for women, in a lot of ways,” Hepolah said. “You feel Brewer, empowered, strong, it’s a pain management system – and it’s an amnesia, and a lot of us are in a place where we just don’t want to think a lot and as far as Is. Women go now, many of them bear the greatest burden of dealing with both work and domestic stress, home schooling, childcare, saving the house from falling. A glass of wine or two, ‘ Mother’s little helper, ‘. Socially acceptable. ”

Drinking alcohol in itself is not a negative thing – it is built on shared experiences in our social infrastructure as a way of bringing loved ones together. This remains true during the epidemic, where zoom cocktail parties have replaced traditional ceremonies.

During the shutdown, innovative ways to bring Boogie Homes closed, with online app sales connecting consumers with liquor stores for home delivery. One such company, Drizly, told ABC that they saw 700–800% growth during the initial lockdown. It has been somewhat flat since then, but they are still sitting at 350% growth from the previous year.

But with that unprecedented demand, Liz Paquet of Drizly said, comes the responsibility of watching their product carefully.

“At a time when we are socially troubled, maintaining relationships with our loved ones is important to a lot of people,” Paqué said. “But it can be a slippery slope. And so we practice a lot of care with our message and communication. We are careful to make sure that we are not using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Must be used. Drunk. We do not push shots.

When he began looking at his sales snowball, Paquet said, he imposed a moratorium on his paid media spending – to ensure that he had both the supply and the secure message to meet his demand.

“It is important for us both in this company, as human beings and as an organization, that we understand our role within this space and ensure that we are acting in a way that is as responsible as possible. ”

When alcohol becomes a crutch to reduce unwanted pain, however, it becomes a problem.

“It’s a way to deal with stress,” Cobb said, “but when you start drinking to fix something or not feel something, the alcohol makes it worse. It becomes very insidious. ”

As coronoviruses began to spread this spring, and alcohol sales began to pick up, the World Health Organization warned that alcohol use could potentially increase health issues and risk-taking behaviors.

Experts say that alcohol consumption poses unique risks in the current COVID-19 crisis, potentially leading people to the disease.

“Chronic alcohol consumption has historically been shown to increase the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome,” Cobb said. Fluid builds up in the lungs, preventing them from being filled with enough air. Low oxygen reaches the bloodstream, depriving the organs they need to function.

“At a time when we are going to be extra careful, it is a particularly bad time for impaired judgment when we should focus on our behavior,” Pollard said. “There are real risks with lasting consequences.”

As a result, experts say this unprecedented crisis may provide new opportunities to rethink pain management.

“People don’t want to quit drinking because they don’t want to change their world,” Hepollah said. “But now, the world has changed. And we are here whether we like it or not. So the question is, who do you want to be?”

If you or someone close to you needs help with a substance use disorder, call the Drug Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at the national helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or FindTreatment Visit .gov, SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

ABC News’ Sony Salzman and Eric Strauss contributed to this report.

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