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How COVID-19 Stress Is Affecting Binge Drinking

COVID-19 Stress is Affecting Binge Drinking

Many factors in a person’s life, during the COVID-19 pandemic, can cause them to binge drink. Isolation, anxiety, stress, boredom, and depression can compel people to drink more than they usually do to ease these feelings and provide release. 

According to a March survey from YouGov, people who live in the western US are 25 percent more likely to drink more now than those in the Northeast (21 percent), the Midwest (16 percent) and the South (15 percent).

It may not be far off to say that some people might be playing drinking games during COVID-19 pandemic, either alone or with family and friends.  Many people are connecting via the Zoom video-conferencing platform to host and join virtual happy hours.

Boredom and isolation from stay-at-home orders along with the stress that lack of income from a loss of employment or furlough brings equals the perfect excuse to binge drink.  

Binge Drinking on the Rise in California

Some states deemed liquor stores “essential businesses” that were allowed to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, such as the case with California. With these stores open and operating, albeit, with requests to wear a face mask and practice social distancing upon entering, residents could buy alcoholic beverages of their liking (and financial means) to reduce stress, boredom, isolation, and possibly, depression.

A temporary measure from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control gave restaurants and bars permission to sell beer, wine, and premixed cocktails for pickup and delivery. This gave people someplace to get alcoholic drinks amid the pandemic and another avenue to binge drink.

Also, Californians can buy wine and beer in grocery stores. It is easy to grab a six-pack or two of beer or a few cheap bottles of wine when shopping for groceries. Delivery services like Instacart and Shipt allow their gig shoppers to get these items for the person they are shopping for. Some liquor stores also have curbside pickup after an online order is placed. Buying alcohol to drink is easy and convenient in California, which often leads to binge drinking.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in a two-hour time frame. However, this type of consuming alcohol is harmful to the body and dangerous all around.

Effects of Binge Drinking of the Body

Binge drinking is more costly than just the dollar amount of alcohol.  When someone consumes more alcohol than their body can process, they can become buzzed or quite drunk. The effects on the body from drinking too much alcohol in a short time are detrimental. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that too much alcohol in a short time span can:

  • Cause disruption in the brain’s pathways leading to poor mood, poor balance, and the inability to think clearly or move well.
  • Damage the heart by causing high blood pressure, cause a stroke, irregular heartbeat, or possibly causing cardiomyopathy.
  • Damage the liver by causing steatosis (fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, or fibrosis.
  • Damage the pancreas and cause different types of cancers.
  • Increase body weight and body mass

Binge drinking, when stressed out due to COVID-19, can wreak havoc on the body.

Other Harmful Effects of Binge Drinking

Drinking too much alcohol can result in verbal, physical, and sexual harassment or violence. When people are stuck at home all day and night with each other, it can be difficult to get along.  Some people say they are more social when they drink. While this may be true for some, too much beer, wine, or liquor might result in negative and unkind words said and physically harmful actions. These are long-lasting wounds from binge drinking.

Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) arrests are another harmful effect of binge drinking.  Someone who does not usually binge drink and has a lesser tolerance for alcohol will feel the effects sooner, and usually, stronger than someone who drinks more heavily. Buzzed drinking is drunk driving in many states.

Binge drinking can also cause alcohol poisoning, according to Healthline. Drinking more alcohol when not used to it can result in depression of the gag reflex, which can lead to someone choking on their vomit when passed out, and thus, possibly leading to suffocation or death.

Vehicle accidents are also a possibility when someone has been binge drinking and decides to go out and grab a snack. 

Mixing alcohol with other substances, such as marijuana, can also be harmful. Prescription drugs, especially opioids and benzodiazepines, are dangerous when combined with any alcoholic drink. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, as do benzos. The combination can result in unconsciousness or death when taken together.

How to Control Binge Drinking During COVID-19

Psycom offers some questions that signify someone is a binge drinker:

  • Does the person have more than four drinks per day?
  • Do they forget what happened when they were drinking?
  • Do they feel ashamed or guilty when they drink too much?
  • Do they think that they need to reduce the amount they drink?  
  • Are they surprised when told they drank too much?
  • Do other people comment on how much they drink?
  • Do they put everything else aside to make time to drink?

The safest way to control binge drinking related to stress from the COVID-19 pandemic is to track how much alcohol is being consumed daily. This can be done by writing down each alcoholic drink from a bottle of beer to a full cocktail.

Reduce stress in healthier ways than drinking by doing any of the following:

  • Go outside and exercise. Take a short or long walk. Go on a hike.
  • Try meditation or yoga, which refocuses energy on positivity.
  • Talk to a friend or family member who is supportive and understanding.
  • Try new recipes–cook with children.
  • Play family games that are not alcohol-related.

Getting Help for Stress-Related COVID-19 Binge Drinking

If someone has an alcohol misuse problem, it is best to find professional medically supervised alcohol addiction treatment. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severely dehydrating, cause delirium tremens (DTs), and possibly become fatal.  Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, but it is treatable. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder.” When someone compulsively seeks and uses alcohol or drugs despite harmful consequences that occur, they have an addiction.

The COVID-19 pandemic is adding extra stress to the lives of most everyone in one way or another. Whether the stress is caused by loss of income, being stuck in the home for days and months on end, the pressure to constantly take health and safety seriously, and the stress of taking care of others, binge drinking will only make things worse. It’s common to forget responsibilities when drunk, and the fatigue and malaise from a hangover the next day will delay any chores or work that needs doing.

Good mental and physical health is essential to well-being. Take care of yours so that you can help your loved ones take care of theirs.

Author

Rebecca Bryan

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