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Covid-19 & Alcohol

When faced with an epidemic like COVID-19, even the strongest among us can lose control and collapse emotionally, which can lead to self-medicate with alcoholic drinks. Worrying about catching COVID-19 yourselves or one of your family catching it, reading contradictions on the media, and the terror of losing one´s financial support all increase anxiety. Unfortunately, reaching for alcohol can worsen your mind and make it more likely to become an alcoholic.

A key concern is whether this increase in home drinking may become difficult to reverse once the pandemic is over.

adults consuming alcohol heavily

adults consuming alcohol heavily

Drinking increases during disasters and crises, as people try to navigate stress, uncertainty and upheaval. However, alcohol also contributes to substantial illness, disease, injury and deaths. It is therefore essential for those who choose to drink, to do it moderately, avoiding daily booze, and to remember that drinking alcohol is not a helpful coping strategy.

Alcohol: coping mechanism during Quarantines?

Many adults are struggling with problematic alcohol consumption or dependency. The unique restrictions placed upon us, such as social distancing, are leading others towards its abuse. If you are struggling with your wellbeing due to the social distancing measures required for the safety of all, turning to substances like alcohol to cope is a dangerous decision. The immediate and temporary gratification will pass quickly.

Booze is not a remedy against SarsCov-2

We feel obliged to reiterate what has been stated by medical professionals and the WHO: consuming alcohol to treat or immunize yourself from COVID-19 does not work to any degree. This is false information that has been spread online by unreliable sources.

Actually, it’ll do the opposite; heavy alcohol consumption undermines your immune system, potentially causing damage to the immune cells in your lungs and upper respiratory system. 

Facing the COVID-19 pandemic has so far required the temporary closure of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, among others. Due to the restricted operation of such establishments, alcohol consumption, which took place in public spaces, became private, with home becoming the place of choice for this behavior.

It is worth noting that the consumption of alcoholic beverages is linked to more than 222 diseases and illnesses, as a result from the effects of ethanol, which is a psychoactive, reinforcing carcinogenic, immunosuppressive, toxic to cells and tissues. It is one of the main causes of preventable mortality in the world and responsible for 3 million deaths each year.

Excessive consumption weakens the immune system and decreases the body’s ability to fight viral and bacterial infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, which can increase the risk of infection during the pandemic.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the pandemic, fake news circulated that drinking alcohol would provide some protection against COVID-19 or kill the coronavirus. As a result, more than 700 people died in Iran after drinking alcohol of unknown origin and contaminated with methanol. Similar cases have been reported in Central America and the Caribbean. To protect the population from this type of misinformation, the WHO released a report warning that alcohol consumption absolutely does not protect against COVID-19; on the contrary, it can harm the immune response.

alcohol addiction family

alcohol addiction family

Alcohol’s effect on people´s mood

Lockdowns are frustrating; we feel cooped up inside, unable to see friends, go to the gym, the theatre and enjoy other hobbies. While alcohol can be a temporary release from these frustrations, it doesn’t resolve them. They actually boil over when you’re drunk. This can easily lead to arguments and even violence in the house at a time when we all need each other the most.

Cross-addiction

If you struggle with alcoholism or have in the past, it’s important to be vigilant as to your activities and habits at home, since addiction doesn’t always happen in isolation.  People who have been addicted to one substance are more like to transfer their addiction to another in the future, and this phenomenon can include activities such as pornography, video games and apps.

Think about your personality and compulsions instead of just an addiction to one substance. Even if you have achieved sobriety already, the months ahead form a unique set of stressors that could lead you back towards addictions in a new area entirely.

Domestic incidents and Alcohol

The consequences for children living with adults who started drinking at home are early initiation, by easy access, perception of social acceptance of consumption and more episodes of domestic violence. 

Among teenagers, it is assumed that staying at home under parental supervision can lead to decreased consumption, particularly when parents adopt the authoritarian style, that is, offering more monitoring to their kid´s needs. On the other hand, we must consider that parents who increased their alcohol consumption at home during quarantine, drinking more frequently or in greater quantity, contribute to changing their children’s normative beliefs, who can interpret drinking as routine. 

The search for alcohol abuse in stressful situations occurs, mistakenly, by its depressor effect of the central nervous system, which, at first, seems to relax those who consumed it. On the other hand, this same pharmacological effect is responsible for several types of accidents. Falls, burns and shocks, as well as traffic accidents, can cause injuries that sometimes require emergency care. In the context of the pandemic, injury accidents that require care, in addition to overloading services, can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the health services themselves.

Another negative effect of alcohol consumption, enhanced by physical distancing, is:

  • domestic and
  • family violence, whose main victims are women and children.

Grieving, Alcohol and Covid

Some studies point to intensified alcohol use in grieving situation. Thus, as COVID-19 emerges as one of the main causes of death, there is additional concern about alcohol consumption patterns during isolation and in the coming years. Considering that the pandemic is an experience of potential impending death and because it resembles the experience of natural traumatic episodes, we can suppose that later alcohol consumption patterns will increase, with implications for associated mortality.

Statistics and Government measures

At the moment, there has been an increase in alcohol consumption at home due to isolation. In China, 33% of regular alcohol users reported increased use, and 19% reported a relapse to alcohol abuse during the pandemic. In England, nearly 20% of survey participants who reported drinking alcohol daily increased the amount consumed during lockdown. In Germany, 35% of respondents reported that they started drinking more or much more alcohol after lockdown started. Going to the supermarket is a situation of potential exposure to coronavirus and the risk of contagion can be increased when the person is under the influence of alcohol. The reduced perception of risk resulting from its pharmacological effect may result in decreased adherence to preventive measures among users, including the interruption of isolation to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages, non-adherence to hygiene measures and the incorrect use of masks.

At the other end, authorities in several parts of the world have temporarily banned the sale of alcoholic beverages, under justifications that include the need to reduce the use of intensive care beds for trauma and release these vacancies for treating COVID-19 patients, maintain social order and protect women and children from domestic violence. Examples are: South Africa, Greenland, Thailand, France, and parts of The United States. Mexico, Panama and Bolivia have also banned selling alcoholic beverages on weekends, while Colombia greatly limited purchases to stock up at home. The Mexican government endorsed the WHO’s position for restrictions on access to alcohol.

Confronting alcohol consumption as part of the response to COVID-19 is justified because it adds a risk factor for the infection itself, by the ability to gather crowds in leisure events, and increase hospital demand due to trauma resulting from alcohol intoxication

Danger: Mixing Alcohol and Drugs through a pandemic

With schools closed and families self-isolating together at home there are new challenges to consider if you or a family member is using alcohol or other drugs.

This time may pose a challenge for anyone in recovery from an alcohol or drug dependence, when accessing the usual support services may be more difficult to access.  La Jolla Recovery is available 24/7 offering inpatient and outpatient alcohol detox therapies.

The abuse of alcohol and pharmacy medication, which may be more readily available than other illicit drugs.

Drug and alcohol service users are at higher risk from Covid-19-related illness or complications if they are also clinically vulnerable, and they may be more affected by pandemic restrictions.

There is guidance on social distancing, including for people who are clinically vulnerable and at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19. Drug and alcohol users who are also at higher risk may need additional support to follow the recommended social distancing measures.

  • greater vulnerability to the effects of Covid-19 because of reduced immunity from poor health, drug and alcohol use, or medication for other conditions
  • worsening of breathing impairment from Covid-19 due to use of opioids, benzodiazepines and pregabalin, mixed with alcohol
  • increased risk of harm to kids whose parents or carers drink heavily, due to increased time together if children are not at school

As we move through the pandemic, services should aim where possible to provide a full range of harm reduction, healthcare, treatment and recovery support for people who use (or have stopped using) alcohol. Alternative supply routes for NSP and naloxone may have been developed. A range of routes and mechanisms for delivering services and supplies will be needed to ensure that inequalities – already worsened by Covid-19 – are not further widened.

Demand for detoxification, including inpatient, and for residential rehabilitation, and access to these services has increased.  La Jolla Recovery in San Diego is committed to cater to these urgent needs.

by Gabriel M.

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