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Alcoholism in the Season of COVID-19

​​​​​Utah state liquor stores have seen a spike in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. When restaurants and bars across the state limited their services and people self-quarantined at home, many turned to alcohol for a variety of reasons. While some of it may be about stockpiling—there can be cause for concern of substance abuse.

Why have people turned to alcohol?

We're not used to having few distractions in our daily routine, and we may find it hard being idle at home.

"Your brain just wants to feel different," says Elizabeth Howell, MD, MS, associate professor of psychiatry at University of Utah Health. "It's also how people deal with stress in a way that's not often healthy."

Alcohol is a legal drug that is easily accessible. Some believe that it decreases anxiety or helps them sleep. For health care workers who deal with many patients in the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol may serve as a quick and easy way to bypass their feelings. In the long run, it's actually worse.


How does this affect someone who is in recovery from addiction?

Addiction is a disease of isolation. If you are isolated at home with little to no contact with loved ones, this becomes more of a risk factor for people who might relapse.

The support that people with addiction are getting has drastically changed. Support group meetings and AA meetings have all shifted online. "It's torn up the fabric of a lot of our social interactions," Howell says. "For people in recovery, that is very tricky."

How can you tell when someone's drinking is a problem?

  1. Loss of consistent control over use. Indications of this include the person drinking more than they intended or not being able to stop when they thought they could.
  2. Craving or being compulsive about drinking, especially under stress.
  3. Continuing to use if it's causing problems with interpersonal relationships, avoiding responsibilities, or spending more money on alcohol.

Don't hesitate to reach out

Howell says the first step is to practice accepting what the reality is. "It's a good time to learn our practice about meditation, mindfulness, and understanding what they can and can't do."

In a time where things can feel pretty lonely, we appreciate more the people we are close to and how important they are to us.

If you or someone you love is in need of expert help, don't hesitate to reach out to someone you love to talk about what you're feeling or contact a warm line near you. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988, which offers easy-to-access compassionate care for people experiencing any type of mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide, self-harm, and substance use, or any emotional distress for either themselves or their loved ones.