Who would have ever thought in 2020 that we would be in the middle of a pandemic and everyday life as we know it, would be flipped upside down. Sheltering in place, social distancing, and wearing a mask has become a new normal for not just Americans but people all around the world. Being forced to stay home and distance yourself from family, friends, and other hobbies that you may find enjoyable has not been easy. Whether you’re quarantined with your family or alone, this new normal has worsened or brought on a new level of stress that may be hard to handle. While some people may be boo’d up or looking for a “quarantine boo” to help them avoid feelings of loneliness and navigate the challenges of COVID-19, others are getting “boo’zed up” to cope with the stress of it all. Compared to last year, alcohol sales were up 55 percent in late March, which was around the time that states implemented their shelter in place orders.
In addition, COVID-19 has also had some major impacts on job security, the economy, and so much more. Many businesses are getting hit hard by the effects of sheltering in place and social distancing; therefore, many companies have been forced to lay off employees or totally shutdown for good. 20.5 million people have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic, pushing the employment rate to 14.7 percent, which is the highest we’ve seen unemployment since the Great Depression. This has contributed to a lot of stress because although many people have lost their jobs, bills still need to be paid and people still have to provide for their families. While essential workers may not have to deal with the stress of meeting financial obligations, they deal with the stress of increased risk of exposure while working. On top of that, children have been out of school since March with no clear direction of when they will return.
So how is COVID-19 affecting women? For single women who live alone, sheltering in place and social distancing can stir up feelings of loneliness. For women that are married with children they may feel the pressures of juggling work, home schooling their kids, and keeping up with household activities. Not to mention, single moms may feel the pressure ten times worse. The worst part about this pandemic is that people can’t catch a break or leave their homes to blow off steam. Due to COVID-19 restrictions places that people would usually go to relieve stress such as parks, gyms, spas, etc. are closed. Although there are some stress relieving activities that can be done at home, such as yoga or walks around the neighborhood, those activities will only work for so long. However, with alcohol sales on the rise, tough times such as these have pushed people to use alcohol and other controlled substances to cope with the stress of COVID-19.
Whether it’s a weekly virtual happy hour with friends or a nightly sip of wine or beer, people are cozying up to alcohol as a way to relieve stress during the pandemic. While people may feel that using alcohol is making them feel more at ease, they don’t realize that risky behaviors such as drinking can lead to the development of new addictions or relapse into old habits. People who are recovering from alcohol use disorder are really in a vulnerable situation during the pandemic. The stress of COVID-19 may cause a person with problematic drinking behaviors to experience:
- Loneliness; this can be brought on by the need for social distancing and being instructed to remain in our homes.
- An alcohol-related decrease in immune system health and the potential for increased susceptibility to certain infectious processes.
- Drastically restricted access to alcohol, which may lead to symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
On May 19th , Nightline on ABC featured a special “Staying Sober in the Age of COVID-19”, which highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on women who are recovering from alcohol use disorder. Harmony Hobbs, a blogger featured in the special, mentioned that juggling motherhood, home schooling, and her sobriety has been challenging because being stuck at home has prevented her from having personal time, causing her to feel stressed and emotionally depleted. In addition, not being able to do family outings such as going to the park or library has also made her and her family feel very isolated, which makes staying at home even tougher. Despite the added pressures COVID-19, Harmony continues to choose sobriety and attends meetings via zoom for social support. While attending Alcoholics Anonymous is better than nothing, addiction experts fear that lack of physical support systems could cause people to relapse or develop new alcohol use disorders, reversing the declines seen in previous years.
While sheltering in place and social distancing has it benefits in slowing the spread of COVID-19, it can also lead to other harmful habits such as alcohol abuse. Although COVID-19 is a public health priority, both conditions can have a negative impact on our health. As we continue in our new normal, it’s important that we remember people who are struggling with alcoholism and other substance abuse disorders. Although we are not in a position to provide people with a diagnosis, we should make ourselves aware of the signs of alcoholism and check in on family and friends periodically to ensure they dealing with the stress of COVID-19 in a healthy way.
Long, H. V. (2020, May 8). U.S. unemployment rate soars to 14.7 percent, the worst since the Depression era. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/05/08/april-2020-jobs-report/
Multiple. (2020, May 19). Nightline: Staying Sober in the Age of COVID-19. (D. Roberts, Interviewer) Retrieved from Facebook.
Osbourne, N. (2020, April 28). COVID-19 Poses Unique Challenges For Alcohol Drinkers. Retrieved from Alcohol.org: An American Addiction Resource Center: https://www.alcohol.org/resources/coronavirus-and-alcoholism/
Polakovic, G. (2020, April 14). Pandemic drives alcohol sales — and raises concerns about substance abuse. Retrieved from University of Southern California News: https://news.usc.edu/168549/covid-19-alcohol-sales-abuse-stress-relapse-usc-experts/