April 27, 2020

Submitted by Crissy Groenewegen, M.S.

CAPE’s Community Prevention Educator

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. During this time prevention agencies and prevention educators across the country produce campaigns that provide statistics, explain the dangers, and create necessary awareness about the negative impact that alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) can have on families and society. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 14.4 million Americans, ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Of those aged 18 or older, 55.3% reported that they had drunk in the past month.

In this country, much of our culture is centered around social eating and drinking. So, what can we do when faced with a pandemic where suddenly liquor stores are viewed as “essential” business? I know what you must be thinking… that just cannot be true! And if it is true, what does that mean for our youth, the elderly, and those already struggling with alcohol use disorder? It’s a concerning reality, especially at a time when it has become more difficult to provide traditional kinds of support for those struggling with alcohol use disorder, as well as any other substance use disorder.

We already know that alcohol is the most consumed addictive substance in the United States and that excessive alcohol use, especially during COVID-19 social isolation, poses a significant threat to individuals and families. Unfortunately, rates of alcohol consumption, and of heavy drinking, are expected to rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to a recent Nielsen market report, since March 21st, alcohol sales in the United States have increased by 55%, and on-line sales have increased by 243%. For many people, alcohol is, unfortunately, considered an essential purchase. Although establishments such as bars and restaurants have been temporarily shut down, alcohol is still available for purchase at grocery stores, gas stations, mom-and-pop stores, etc., and alcohol sales have skyrocketed. 

I’m sure we have all noticed the explosion of drinking-related memes and witty jokes being shared on social media, group texts, etc., which basically support the culture of drinking to relieve stress and anxiety, now at a peak for many individuals. After a long, stressful day of COVID-19 related bad news, a glass or two of wine or beer might feel like it is exactly what is needed. However, the risks of increased drinking and alcohol misuse are real. Scientists, doctors, and addiction specialists remind us that alcohol directly affects the brain, resulting in changes that can lead to, or worsen, already existing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. But more important for people to realize right now, is that alcohol can also decrease immune function, which can put one at greater risk of infection and increase susceptibility to illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With all of this in mind, at a time when COVID-19 is spreading quickly and aggressively through communities, excessive alcohol use is especially dangerous. But the good news is there is help and there is hope… even in the face of this pandemic. Besides the education and recovery services here at CAPE, many national and local organizations have responded to the pandemic by providing virtual support.

Below is a list that includes a few of the many informational resources, recovery communities, and other supports that are available to anyone who might need them: 

  • Alcoholics Anonymous ( Free mutual-aid meetings offering the hope of recovery to anyone struggling with alcohol use disorder.
  • Al-Anon ( Free mutual-aid meetings and helpful resources for families and friends of people that are struggling with alcohol use disorder. 
  • Alcohol Screening ( Offers information about guidelines for drinking and your current level of risk for potential harm to your health and well-being.
  • Council on Addiction Prevention and Education of Dutchess County ( CAPE’s Peer Recovery Advocates can offer no-cost virtual recovery support that is confidential and judgment-free.
  • Center on Addiction ( Resources and strategies for combating addiction. 
  • Dutchess County Helpline ( Prevention, Treatment, Recovery, and Support Services for both mental health and substance use disorders. 
  • SAFE Treatment Locator ( SAFE Project’s free treatment tool that will find treatment centers based on your needs. 
  • SMART Recovery ( Program that offers free mutual-aid meetings, tools, and books based on cognitive behavioral therapy as an alternative to 12-step recovery meetings.

Resources & Links:

Blow, Frederic C.; Alcohol Awareness During the COVID-19 Pandemic

National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Nielsen Marketing Insights

Safe Project: Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic

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