Skip to Content

Turning to Alcohol in Times of Crisis

Last updated: August 23, 2021

If you’ve ever turned to alcohol to “take the edge off” after a challenging day or week, you’re not alone. Drinking to cope — versus drinking strictly for pleasure — has become increasingly common in the past few years. Particularly concerning, however, was the sharp rise in alcohol consumption after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, a survey published by The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that over 60% of respondents were drinking more than they had prior to the pandemic, with at least 45% citing “increased stress” as their reason for drinking.

The collective trauma we faced during the public health crisis was largely unavoidable, and the need to cope was justified. But how do we know when a coping mechanism has become problematic? And how can we find healthier ways to process our emotions?

Let’s start by understanding what makes us turn to alcohol in the first place.

Perfect Storm

An increase in alcohol dependency amid times of crisis and adversity isn’t new. A nationwide rise in alcohol use disorder (AUD) also followed catastrophes including Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. The impact of COVID-19, on the other hand, combined the stress and anxiety that come with uncertainty about the future with another powerful trigger: loneliness.

“Social isolation can lead to, and worsen, symptoms of anxiety or depression,” says Caitlin Reider, a Substance Use Disorder Counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health. “At a time when we most needed the support of our loved ones, friends and villages, we were forced to find new ways to cope with tragedy.”

For many, turning to alcohol provides a sense of temporary relief from feelings of stress and anxiety. As the frequency or urgency of use grows, however, so do the negative consequences.

Dangerous Dependency

Dietary guidelines suggest limiting alcohol intake to two drinks or fewer each day for men and one drink or fewer each day for women. However, diagnosing AUD can be much more complicated than simply assessing the number of alcoholic drinks someone consumes in a day.

“Alcohol use disorder, previously known as alcohol dependence or alcoholism, is a chronic disease,” Reider says. “Despite what many may think, drinking in excess does not alone indicate a problem.”

Key Questions

For those wondering if their drinking has become problematic, Reider suggests asking yourself a few key questions:

  • Are you able to limit your drinking when you want to?
  • Do you continue to drink despite personal or professional problems?
  • Do you find yourself needing to drink more than you once did to get the same effect?
  • Do you ever want a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else?
  • Have you given up or cut back on activities that were important to you in order to drink?
  • Have you gotten into situations while or after consuming alcohol that increased your chances of getting hurt?
  • Do you experience symptoms of withdrawal when the effects of alcohol wear off? These include trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, racing heart, and seizure.

Even when drinking starts to interfere with relationships, school, or work, the affected individual might not recognize the severity of their condition. Family members and employers often are the first to notice a problem and suggest intervention.

Long-Term Implications

Beyond the consequences AUD can have on one’s emotional and social well-being, the physical effects can be equally severe. Long-term AUD can damage the brain, liver, heart, pancreas, kidneys, and stomach.

“Over time, heavy drinking can lead to liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and multiple types of cancer,” Reider says. “An individual also may experience severe impacts to the brain, including memory loss, nerve damage, insomnia, and worsening depression.”

Alternative Coping Strategies

Stress increases during times of crisis, but the truth is, it’s a natural part of our daily lives as well. Prioritze finding healthy ways to cope.

“Once you begin to integrate healthy coping skills into your life, they tend to stick with you,” Reider says. “Developing these habits can help you not only manage day-to-day challenges, but can mentally prepare you for the unexpected.”

Here are a few simple ways to better cope with stress:

  • Disconnect. Take a break from watching the news and scrolling through social media, both of which tend to contain stress-evoking content.
  • Practice self-care. Be purposeful about the food you’re eating, the movement you’re incorporating into your day, and the amount of sleep you’re getting each night.
  • Unwind. Make time for the activities, hobbies, and passions that bring you joy.
  • Reach out. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling, whether it be a family member, friend, co-worker, or clinical professional.

Help is Available

National Recovery Month reminds individuals that they don’t have to suffer in silence.

“As a nation, we need to put an end to stigmatizing treatment for substance use disorder,” Reider says. “Anyone is susceptible to developing an unhealthy coping mechanism. By increasing access and availability to treatment, we can help our community members heal and return to living their best lives.”

Treatment resources are available to fit each person’s unique circumstances and preferences, including:

  • Virtual Care
  • Walk-In Care
  • Support Groups & Individual Counseling
  • Inpatient Care
  • Mental Health & Psychiatric Services
  • Community Resources

“I think the most critical thing for anyone struggling with alcohol use disorder is to remember is that they’re not alone,” Reider says. “We’re here to support you and hope you’ll reach out for the help you need.”

Start the journey to lifelong recovery by contacting ThedaCare Behavioral Health. We’re here to help.

Tags: alcohol use behavioral health chronic disease substance use

Related Articles

legs male runners in compression socks and kinesio tape run marathon Link to the full post Bones & Joints Health & Well-Being

Leg Up: The Benefits of Compression Socks

Link to the full post Health & Well-Being Health Care 101

We Look Forward to Seeing You, Healthy

Back to site