Alcohol Awareness Month: COVID-19 Impact on Alcoholism

April is Alcohol Awareness Month – created by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence as a way to increase awareness and education regarding the dangers of alcoholism. But this April, in particular, may be especially hard for those impacted by alcohol use disorders. 

Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is experiencing uncertainty, new challenges and struggles. This is especially true to the 14.4 million Americans ages 18 and older who are battling an alcohol use disorder (AUD), bringing to surface a unique set of concerns of its own. 

So how is COVID-19 affecting alcoholism? With the threat of the virus, a person with problematic drinking behaviors may face various challenges including heightened anxiety when faced with the unknown, the possibility of unemployment, isolation from support systems due to social distancing measures, a weakened immune system and more. 

Anxiety & AUDs

Without knowing exactly how the world will be impacted, when the spread of the virus will slow down, if your job is safe, or when a vaccine will be developed, many people feel anxious for themselves or for their loved ones. COVID-19 affects alcoholism by increasing the level of uncertainty, thus people with an AUD may experience enhanced anxiety as a side effect of the disorder. 

According to alcohol.org, studies show that there is a clear relationship between anxiety and AUDs. One study estimated that 18.3% of people with general anxiety disorder self-medicated their condition with alcohol while 3.3% self-medicated with alcohol because of panic disorders. Additionally, nearly 13% of people with anxiety who self-medicated with alcohol developed an AUD, based on the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

Social Distancing & AUDs

As the number of infected people continue to rise as well as the chances of catching it, preventative measures such as social distancing and self-quarantine have been implemented by the government to avoid the spread of the virus. Measures that promote isolation can pose many difficulties for a person struggling with substance abuse due to the separation in place from their support system. According to Evan Haines, co-founder of Alo House Recovery Centers and a recovering alcoholic in Malibu, CA, the most significant feature of addiction is the profound sense of isolation that is associated with it, that makes social distancing an especially difficult and risky proposition for those who suffer from substance use.

AUD Impact on Immune System

A third challenge alcohol drinkers are facing includes a weakened immune system. According to Global Health Now, clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related effects such as susceptibility to pneumonia as alcohol disrupts immune pathways in complex and seemingly paradoxical ways. “Binge drinking can disrupt the body’s ability to mount an adequate immune response to a stressful situation, such as impeding a healthy response to the coronavirus,” stated Majid Afshar, MD, an assistant professor at Loyola University Health Systems in Illinois. “Four or five drinks or more can impair signaling proteins known as cytokines, ‘important fighters’ in the immune system’s cellular arsenal.”

Resources Available & Helpful Tips

Thankfully, there are resources available to help with AUDs during a time of lockdowns and social isolation. As COVID-19 affects alcoholism, the recovering community has gone digital. Many local AA offices have supplied information on their websites about how to turn an in-person meeting into a digital one. Additionally, the General Service of Alcoholics Anonymous (GSO) US/Canada announced that some groups are holding online meetings through Zoom, Google Hangouts, or conference call. AA groups also have contact lists to keep in touch by phone, email, or social media.

While virtual AA meetings can be an enormous help during this time, there are additional steps one can take to prevent turning to alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic. Waking up and sticking to a daily schedule that is productive, stepping outside for short walks or runs, limiting the amount of news one watches or the amount of time spent on social media, reconnecting with friends, family members or colleagues, are all simple ways one can help avoid the craving to drink alcohol. Additionally, for those with alcoholics in their life, being mindful that COVID-19 affects alcoholism and simply asking how they can help can go a long way. 

FAQs

How does COVID-19 affect alcoholism?

With the threat of COVID-19, a person battling alcoholism may face various challenges including heightened anxiety when faced with the unknown, unemployment, isolation from support systems due to social distancing measures, a weakened immune system and more. 

What are simple steps one can take to prevent turning to alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic?

People facing alcohol cravings can take simple steps like sticking to a productive daily routine, staying off social media sites or limit the amount of time spent watching news each day, getting outside for fresh air, eating healthy balanced meals, and making restful sleep a priority. 

What are some virtual support resources for alcoholism?

A few resources include but are not limited to: online AA meetings in different formats including email, chat, video or telephone; Tempest, a membership site for people struggling with alcohol, offers free virtual support meetings resources, and scholarships; and SAMHSA, which provides free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

How can I help someone I know who is fighting alcoholism?

If you know someone who is fighting addiction, take it upon yourself to ask them how you can help. It might be as simple as a phone call around their craving time each day. 

Where can I learn more about COVID-19 insights as it relates to my health?

For the reliable COVID-19 insights from some of the world’s most respected global health experts, see Global Health NOW’s COVID-19 Expert Reality Check.

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