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The Increased Risk of Alcoholism During the Coronavirus Lockdown

By Theresa Anthony

I have a deep sensitivity for those who suffer from the disease of alcoholism. Those who have followed my story or read my book know very well the role that alcoholism played in my son’s demise, culminating in his suicide at age 25.

Until my son became riddled with this horrible disease of the brain, mind, will, and soul I had no real-world experience with alcoholism. Now that I can say I have had the most intimate exposure to it through my son’s sad journey, I literally cringed when I saw the latest news reports that alcohol sales have increased by 55% during the social distancing measures, according to a data reported by Nielsen, and that online alcohol sales have risen a whopping 243%. These are troubling statistics on so many levels.

Collectively, Americans, and people worldwide, are grappling to adjust to living in seclusion for weeks on end. I can totally understand the desire for a beer or a glass of wine to take the edge off anxiety levels! The problem is that as daily alcohol consumption ratchets up, the chance of the person developing an alcohol use disorder increases over time. With, at minimum, another month in isolation, this can quickly become a serious health threat.

My son’s own story with alcoholism started with the sudden onset of depression at about age 19. Living in a college environment at the time, he leaned on alcohol to help him manage the effects of increasing mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Within two years, this young man who had such a bright future ahead of him had developed full-blown chemical dependence to alcohol.

The reason I share that is to alert people who may have a loved one who is also struggling with mental health conditions right now. With job losses and financial strain mounting, along with growing feelings of loneliness and isolation, they, too, may be turning to alcohol as a form of self-medicating during the coronavirus pandemic. Anxiety levels are also high, with fears of the virus itself along with unknown financial fallout keeping people up at night. Alcohol may be the tool they use to try to relax.

For those people who have gone through treatment for an alcohol addiction, these are also trying times. Many of those in recovery depend on their local A.A. communities to stay the course, as social support and accountability offer a better chance of sustaining sobriety. Losing that personal connection to the recovery community has some worrying dimensions, even with the availability of online Zoom-enabled A.A. meetings. While these video meetings are a huge gift to the recovery community during the current crisis, they lack that personal connection that the live meetings provide.

It is really important to keep the lines of communication open with a loved one who may be susceptible to acquiring or relapsing back to an alcohol use disorder. During the lockdown we have to rely on phone/text or FaceTime connections versus being able to go and physically check on someone who may be in trouble. Stay connected! For loved one in recovery, you may be their only hope in staying sober. For those who may be slipping into alcoholism, your daily contact may help them pull out of depression or settle their nerves enough to reduce their alcohol consumption. Now is the time to reach out and check on them. Thankfully, there are outpatient rehab programs offering tele-health services that can provide assessment and psychotherapy for the time being if needed.

When we emerge from this truly awful historic event, some of us, or a precious friend or family member, may experience the need for addiction treatment. Please do not ignore the problem by putting your head in the sand. Alcoholism is a progressive and deadly disease. Give your loved one, or yourself if necessary, the love that is deserved, and go get the needed help.

Theresa Anthony is the author of My 13th Station, a memoir about her son's journey and eventual suicide and Hope Springs from a Mother's Broken Heart, a guidebook for grieving mothers. She also works as a freelance writer in the addiction and mental health field, hoping to inspire individuals in need of help to take that first step.

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