Alcohol Awareness Month
Social media is awash with jokes and memes about drinking these days. “It’s protective, if you have a glass of wine in each hand you can’t touch your face!” And, “It may take a village to raise a child, but I swear it’s going to take a vineyard to homeschool one.” These are funny, and in these days of worry and uncertainty it is understandable that we might want to do more of what temporarily relieves stress. It’s true, a little alcohol can take the edge off some of our very uncomfortable feelings.
By the way, Stress Baking is a real thing right now. Just try to find flour or sugar at the grocery store. And when we need to self-nurture, who doesn’t want to reach for a few chocolate chip cookies, a slice of banana bread and other comfort foods?
Are We Drinking More?
Liquor stores and wine merchants would say yes. Sales of wine, beer and liquor in Seattle, Chicago and Boston, were up 300 to 500 percent in mid-March compared to January. Let’s take in to account that people were anticipating not doing any drinking in bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. Maybe the stocking up just means they anticipate drinking their normal amount at home.
A recent study from Alcohol.org reports that lots of people are knocking back a few beers while knocking out emails and working from home. In a self-reporting survey more than one-third of workers across the country said they regularly drank while “at work” at home.
Time to Get Healthy
I get it. I love a nice glass of red wine in the evening, but I found that it was becoming more of a routine, not a treat. Unfortunately, this normal and natural urge to self-medicate comes at a time when we need to be as strong and healthy as possible. According to an article in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews studies have shown how excessive alcohol consumption can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to the dangers involved in the COVID-19 illness–pneumonia, acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS), and sepsis.
In addition, when we drink, we’re much more likely to overeat, raising blood sugar and increasing our weight.
What is moderate drinking?
According to the government’s dietary guidelines, moderate drinking is considered to be:
• For women: up to one drink per day
• For men: 2 drinks per day
• For women: 8 or more drinks per week, which translates to anything more than 1 drink/day
• For men:15 or more drinks per week, which translates to more than 2 drinks/day
Teen and Young Adult Drinking
Another consideration is that if you are home with children, they are watching. Back in normal life, you could go out with friends, have a few drinks, and the kids were none the wiser. But now, we are all together.
Many of our kids who are over 21 are back home and feeling the many losses, changes and fears around having their lives derailed. I have a friend who came home from grocery shopping late one afternoon who found 3 empty beer bottles lined up on the kitchen counter, while her 20-year old daughter, home from college, worked on her laptop. “Well mom,” she said, “Why not? You’re having a glass or 2 of wine every night to relax, so I figured you wouldn’t mind me having a few beers.”
This was a good time for them to talk about drinking and now is the time to have those conversations with the teens in your house. It’s good to acknowledge and talk about drinking, even with middle schoolers, and observe who is consuming, and how much. It’s good to have your own gut check. Wow, what am I modeling for my kids?
Abuse and Recovery
Many Americans drink more than the recommended amount; 15 million people in the U.S. have alcohol use disorder, reports the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Sadly, only 8% of adults with a drinking problem received treatment in the past year. George F. Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, explained in Newsweek one reason states have not closed liquor stores due to the pandemic, “Abruptly limiting access to alcohol could lead to an increase in withdrawal among people with severe alcohol use disorder and add to the burden on the healthcare system.”
For those struggling every day to stay sober, the COVID-19 crisis has taken away support systems and routines they have relied on. Many recovering parents are also coping with homeschooling on top of financial worries. In-person support groups and sessions with sponsors are the mainstays of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). People starting recovery often commit to attending a meeting every day for many months, and even those who have been sober for years often attend a few meetings a week. Program leaders are scrambling to maintain smaller meetings with social distancing, or get meetings online, but this is all very distressing for people already struggling. Here is another resource to find help: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Choices Options Alternatives
One way that I’m reducing my stress is by avoiding chocolate at all costs. I know that once I get started, it’s impossible for me to stop. It tastes so good in the moment and then as the scale creeps up, I remind myself that there are other alternatives to stress binging on chocolate.
So every morning after some quiet time or meditation, this morning it was the free meditation offered by Oprah and Deepak Chopra on hope you will find me walking for at least 45 minutes. Then, in the evenings, when I get home from seeing patients, I head back out. I usually start to feel the stress start to drain from my body after the first 20 minutes, when I can notice the trees and the birds. Yes, in case you’re wondering, I do wear a mask, because the trail I walk on tends to have a lot of other like-minded people out and about.
Other ways to Reduce Stress and COVID-19 Anxiety
- Keep to a regular schedule. Try to go to bed and get up at about the same time. Do what you can to get enough sleep, and then get out of your PJs! Do get dressed!
- Make a To Do list. Even if it has dog walking, cleaning, weeding, or homeschooling on it, a list can keep you feeling productive and not adrift.
- Tackle a home improvement or craft project, organize those photos, take up a meditation practice.
- Stay informed, but avoid excessive exposure to the news cycle. Especially from unreliable sources. What’s excessive? I think limit yourself to 30 minutes each day.
- Exercise – go for a walk, find a video you like to work out with. Put on music and dance.
- Connect and re-connect with friends and relatives. Now is a good time to send a letter, card or email to someone you have been meaning to get in touch with. A simple hello and I hope you are doing okay, may do you both good.
- Try meditation or mindfulness or listening to calming music
Remember, we will get through this and there are many opportunities to find meaning and more fulfillment without all the distractions that we’re used to, from being busy to stress eating or drinking.
Breathe and remember what Christopher Robin said to Pooh, “You’re braver than you believe and stronger than you seem…”