I'm not talking about that one glass of wine with dinner or the occasional vodka martini with friends, this is about choosing to drink instead of facing your emotions. Wow, I just typed that out and, I must admit, that's pretty daunting. Drinking to avoid our feelings is never the way to go, even during the lockdown.
According to this Odyssey survey on drinking habits during quarantine, 54 percent of respondents are drinking more alcohol than usual. I wish I was shocked, but I'm not. Our society normalizes drinking and binge drinking, which, ahem, is 4+ drinks for a born-female and 5+ for a born-male.
Along those lines, approximately 70 percent of respondents are drinking 3+ drinks a day.
As an Alcohol and Other Drug Bystander Intervention Workshop Trainer, I know all about alcohol misuse and abuse. I've been educating teenagers and young adults about the risks of binge drinking for years and am currently working at the Center For Prevention and Outreach at Stony Brook University. Among many other important topics, we work with students to discuss coping skills and how alcohol misuse and dependence can stem from the avoidance of difficult emotions, various life events, stress, trauma, anxiety, and boredom.
I'm not saying drinking is bad, but the reasons behind our drinks should be positive. Consistently depending on alcohol to relax or cope with emotions is a clear sign that something is wrong. I know this seems dramatic, but it's true. Drinking alcohol is not a coping skill. Instead, alcohol is a social drug that should be used mindfully.
Am I the only one concerned that when a friend complains they had a rough day our first instinct is to advise them to get drunk? It all starts with that one glass of red wine and they for sure won't wake up the next day ready to conquer the world. I'm not the alcohol police and I don't want to be, but this is a serious matter that I can't turn a blind eye to. Approximately 14.4 million American adults have an Alcohol Use Disorder and society's perceptions don't help.
Alcohol use as a coping mechanism is dangerous. Period.
Yes, alcohol is a depressant, creates feelings of relaxation, and is a "way to distance from stressors or challenges," but using alcohol for this latter purpose is a characteristic of problematic drinking. Filling your organs with alcohol will not help you cope with challenging emotions, it will only delay them for another time.
On that note, quarantine has been rough. Mental illnesses have spiked. Suicides have spiked. Feelings of loneliness have spiked. And, of course, alcohol sales have spiked, which in turn also correlates to the increased risk of substance abuse disorders. People are stuck at home with their feelings and that's really hard when you can't distract yourself with friends, school, work, etc. Many are also struggling with their finances, which creates additional stressors.
The survey suggests that no matter who people are quarantined with, people are drinking — even seven-plus drinks in a single day. Whether students are struggling with the transition from their college dorm back to their childhood home and parent's rules or young adults are going crazy alone in their newly furnished apartment or roommates are socializing and partying, the end result is the same: people are drinking.
Let me be clear, just because people are drinking a little more than usual does not automatically mean that everyone is misusing alcohol.
Nevertheless, it's important to take a step back and recognize what your motivations for drinking are. If there's a chance that you're drinking to avoid something, take some time to find a positive coping skill that will help you get through quarantine.
Take this alcohol screening test today to learn more about your relationship with alcohol.