Sales of alcoholic beverages spiked by 55% in one week of March 2020 compared to the same week the year before, according to the market research firm Nielsen.  Americans could have just been restocking their shelves for a time when restaurants and bars weren’t open, but the isolation which helps stop the spread of COVID-19 can also lead to alcohol abuse without proper safeguards.

“We say that substance use disorder is a disease of isolation,” says Jordan Hussey, executive director of J’s Place Recovery Center in Gainesville, GA. “It isolated us from others when we are using, and we are more likely to suffer a setback in our recovery when we isolate ourselves. We’ve worked very hard to help people stay connected to one another virtually in spite of the pandemic. We’ve created service opportunities where people could safely donate for food drives; and our online meeting attendance has been several times our pre-pandemic in-person meeting attendance.”

But what about the rest of us, those who have not had problems with alcohol in the past? Does being isolated mean we will develop a problem? Experts say they do not predict a huge surge in addiction because of isolation, however, they warn everyone needs to be monitoring and moderating their alcohol consumption since drinking at home lacks the social controls that often help us moderate our drinking.

“Your body can become dependent on a substance, even if you do not develop full-blown substance use disorder,” says Reese Daniel, addiction counselor and member of the board of directors at J’s Place. “If your body comes to ‘depend’ on the alcohol or other drugs it can be difficult to stop; and you may experience some discomfort or even painful withdrawals symptoms when you do. If you are going through withdrawal, it’s important to seek medical attention.  Many people are under an unusual amount of stress right now due to the risk of getting sick, changes in routines, lost jobs and a lot of uncertainty. Those stressors can increase the likelihood of misusing alcohol, so it’s important for people to be aware.”

Excessive alcohol consumption leads to many health concerns from liver damage to increased risk for some cancers.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says experiencing several of the following symptoms can indicate a reason for concern:

• You’re drinking more or longer than you intended.
• You try to cut down or stop drinking, but you can’t.
• You have to drink more than you once did to get the same effect.
• You continue to drink, even though it makes you feel depressed or anxious.
• You spend a lot of time drinking or thinking about alcohol.
• Your loved ones have made comments about your drinking.
• You find that drinking interferes with your daily activities and work.
• You have withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink, including shaking, sweating, having tremors, headaches, anxiety, irritation, and insomnia.

“People who recognize themselves in the SAMHSA checklist are not necessarily already dependent or addicted,” Daniel says, “but if you or your family members are concerned about your drinking, you should reach out to people who can help you move in the right direction. Start with your family doctor or a substance abuse/ mental health professional. If there is addiction in your family history, this especially important.”

To learn more about prevention, visit the Center Point Prevention Page here.

For Recovery Support, visit J’s Place Recovery Center here for more information.