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Experts agree we haven’t seen the end of excessive drinking during the pandemic…

Consumers across the country are emptying the stores of toilet paper, face masks, Purell, and Lysol, while others have been quietly stockpiling their liquor cabinets…

           An upsurge in substance abuse is likely in the aftermath of regional disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception to the rule. Alcohol sales have increased 55 percent since last year, tripling between January and March, while home deliveries and online sales of alcohol have jumped dramatically as well. In a study conducted by the American Addiction Centers (AAC), 22 percent of those surveyed said they stocked up on alcohol more than any other food or beverage, and 35 percent reported drinking more alcohol by volume than before COVID-19 struck.  

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“With the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19, we’re seeing online [alcohol] sales increasing, an increase in demand, and restaurants looking for ways to capitalize on the demand. It’s a perfect storm.”

– Anthony Dukes, professor and chair of the marketing department at the USC Marshall School of Business.

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But what are the consequences of so much drinking?

  • Abusive Drinking Lowers Immunity

Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones, professor emeritus at the University of Utah School of Medicine, explains that drinking too much during an emergency can worsen pre-existing health conditions. Many studies have shown that, over time, drinking weakens immunity, particularly for those with pneumonia and cardiopulmonary problems, making individuals who are drinking during the pandemic more susceptible to COVID-19.

“People who regularly smoke or use other substances can have impaired immune systems and lung functioning, which might increase risk of contracting COVID-19 and having worse outcomes from the virus.”

– Adam Leventhal, professor of preventive medicine and psychology, and director of the USC Health, Emotion, and Addiction Laboratory.

  • Alcoholics in Recovery Risk Relapsing

John Clapp, professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, says that because of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, alcoholics in recovery are at greater risk during the pandemic.
“This time of social distancing, self-imposed isolation, and uncertainty can trigger a relapse,” says Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer of AAC.
Experts also worry that in the future, more people will seek help for drinking problems within a system already lacking in funding and resources. However, WHO/Europe advises reinforcing existing substance abuse treatment services.

  • Drinking During the Pandemic Fuels Violence

In areas where restaurants and bars are limiting service to takeout orders, many troubled individuals are doing most of their drinking at home, making the situation more dangerous for the entire family. A study published in Forensic Science International described the evident correlations between drinking during the pandemic and the rising domestic violence rates. 

 “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we really should ask ourselves what risks we are taking in leaving people under lockdown in their homes with a substance that is harmful both in terms of their health and the effects of their behavior on others, including violence.”

– Carina Ferreira-Borges, program manager for the Alcohol and Illicit Drugs Programme at the WHO/Europe.

On the Clock Drinking During the Pandemic

According to an AAC survey, a third of Americans working from home are avid drinkers. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they were more likely to drink when working from home, while 26 percent of women and 36 percent of men admitted to drinking on the job.

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“Certainly, there is a portion of the population who believes that they can get away with alcohol consumption during work hours because they’re completely out of sight of supervisors,” Weinstein says.

Employed Addicts Will Make Adjustments

“We’ll see some people strive to regain control of their drinking habits once it’s time to physically return to work, and we will see others struggle to secure a new job because they have to limit their drinking,” says Dr. Meghan Marcum, chief psychologist at a Better Life Recovery in San Juan Capistrano, California.

“As social distancing and self-isolation turns from weeks to months, we’ll see more online partying, more Zoom parties, and more alcohol consumption, so we’re going to hear about more problems related to alcohol abuse.”

– Daryl Davies, professor of clinical psychology at the USC School of Pharmacy and director of the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory.

Dr. Marcum echoes Davies’ concerns: “As long as the social distancing restrictions are in place, we will continue to see people drinking more at home.”

Written by: Sarah Sharp

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