“We’ve seen a significant increase in the consumption of alcohol. When you look at sales, it’s astronomical. It’s one of the biggest profits, outside of things like hand sanitizer,” says Brandy Vandermark-Murray, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Alcohol Substance Abuse Counselor, and the Senior Vice President of Operations with Horizon Health Services.
“While we’ve seen a huge increase in alcohol use, we haven’t necessarily seen an uptick in people seeking services for substance use,” adds Lindsay Herndon, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and the Outpatient Services Associate Vice President at BryLin Behavioral Health System.
In a recent study, 60% of participants said they drank more during COVID-19 than before it. More than 45% said they were reaching for alcohol more often because of stress, while more than 30% said it was out of boredom.
“People tend to drink when they don’t have a plan. Boredom becomes a big trigger,” says Vandermark-Murray.
Isolation and a lack of access to regular activities also contributed to people reaching for a drink.
“Alcohol is the number one drug of choice. It does more damage to the body than most other drugs. Because it is legal, it tends to be minimized and marginalized. A lot of people can go through addiction without it being recognized,” says Vandermark-Murray.
The numbers are even more concerning when broken down by gender. A recent RAND Study found that women increased the number of days they were drinking heavily by 41% compared to before the pandemic. The study defined heavy drinking as four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours.
“We are seeing women who are progressively going through the disease of addiction much faster than we have in previous years. We think a lot of that is people are at home, multitasking, jobs, children, not having their peer groups. Women can hide addiction stronger than men. Women tend to ask for help less,” says Vandermark-Murray.
When is alcohol use a problem?
“If it is impacting your life in some way, you’re drinking more than you intended, if you’re drinking and driving or if you’re drinking and other people are saying to slow down, you might have some stuff going on,” Herndon says. “It isn’t a matter of how many drinks a week is unhealthy for a person. It’s really the impact on the life. If someone is drinking socially once a week, that’s very different than someone who is using alcohol to cope on a daily basis.”.
Both counselors say a professional can help assess how alcohol is impacting your life, your relationships and can provide recommendations for reducing risky behavior. “Coming in and getting that assessment is more common than you might think,” says Vandermark-Murray.
It’s important to note, you don’t have to have a problem with alcohol to want to cut back.
Some great ways to unwind without alcohol after a long day at work are to start by taking a minute for yourself.
“Even if it means hiding in the bathroom to unwind and breathe to notice how you’re feeling. That’s totally acceptable to say, ‘I’m at my wits end and I need to get away for a minute.’ Being mindful is really helpful,” says Herndon.
Try writing down how you’re feeling in a journal. Check out our podcast, Journaling During Difficult Times, for some tips.
Pick up a pastime that you like, start a new hobby, or just get outside. Check out our Forest Bathing: Using Nature to Calm Your Mind blog.
“At the end of a long day of work, the last thing people want to do is be active, but that can be the most helpful aspect,” Herndon says. “Even if that’s just going for a walk, being outside in nature is probably one of the most impactful things you can do to unwind after a long day.”
Vandermark-Murray adds, “You can go for a walk, go out to dinner with friends, or meditate. Be active or do artwork.”