I recently treated a liquor store owner who said he’s having trouble maintaining inventory. He said people aren’t just coming in and picking up a few things. They’re clearing off his shelves. The better the weather, the more they’re buying.
He’s been in business for 40 years and has never seen anything like it. He has no idea how he’ll keep up with demand during the Fourth of July holiday.
The data supports his statements. During the week ending March 21, when stay-at-home orders were just going into effect, alcohol sales increased 55 percent. This trend continued into the middle of May as alcohol sales increased 34 percent. Online alcohol delivery providers and wine clubs have seen a massive surge in sales.
The World Health Organization recommended restricting access to alcohol during the pandemic. Increased drinking can exacerbate mental health disorders, weaken the immune system, and lead to an increase in domestic violence and risk-taking behavior. Here in New Jersey as in many states, places that sell alcohol have been deemed essential.
The fact is, we’re not living in good times, and the risk of alcohol dependency is very real.
The coronavirus didn’t cause lives to change over a long transition period. Almost overnight, we were told to stay home. Only leave for food, medication, and doctor’s appointments. None of us have ever experienced anything like this in our lifetimes.
Different people respond to this kind of change in very different ways, creating different types of stress at different levels. Most people think of stress as being stressed out, but that’s an oversimplified definition of stress.
Let’s take a look at the scientific, clinical definition of stress.
In this case, the stimulus of stress is not only the pandemic, but the abrupt changes caused by the pandemic. This causes biological reactions that disrupt homeostasis, or balance, in the human body, leading to both positive and negative stress.
For me, the stress of figuring out how to operate Natural Healthcare Center was a challenge. I’m very proud of the fact that we never closed and being able to see our patients has been a blessing, but there was definitely stress involved.
At the same time, I was able to spend more time with my family. We’ve been able to have meals together. These are examples of positive stress.
Obviously, losing your job increases your stress load. Being alone while stuck at home can be stressful. Seeing people you know suffer with a deadly virus is stressful. Some people have reacted to this stress by drinking, which only creates more health risks.
As a clinician who studies chronic disease, I look at society and see that more attention needs to be paid to the high stress loads people are carrying due to the abrupt changes and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I’m very concerned about the increase in alcohol consumption.
I see people posting on Facebook about how much wine they’re drinking. While these may seem like innocent jokes, blowing off some steam can turn into a serious problem.
Take an honest look at how much you’re drinking. If you’re drinking more in the past few months than you were before, try to stop. Go cold turkey for a month. If you see someone you love drinking more, talk to them about it.
If you or a loved one finds it difficult to stop drinking, it could be time to seek counseling. Alcoholism is like any other chronic disease. The faster you diagnose the problem and the earlier you take action, the better your chances of avoiding long-term negative consequences.
Drinking alcohol is a choice at first. As you drink more frequently and heavily, it becomes an addiction that you can’t stop on your own.
Look out for yourself. Look out for your loved ones. Let’s make a conscious effort to manage stress by making smart lifestyle choices so we can emerge from this pandemic stronger and healthier.