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Did 2 Drinks Become a Bottle During the Pandemic?

When alcohol consumption becomes a problem.

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photo of wine glass with a wine bottle shadow
Elena Scotti
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I heard many people joke that they became “functional alcoholics” while in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was not funny to me.        

I am 58 years old and have been sober from alcoholism for nine years. I paid dearly for my alcoholic drinking. I spent months in rehab, missing milestones and holidays with my children, and lost my 25-year marriage. My hard-fought sobriety, however, brought me a new life.        

Perhaps quarantining was hard for you and you began to self-medicate with alcohol. Many people were lonely and bored. Our society is bombarded with messages indicating that everything is better with alcohol. “Happy” hour is a cultural institution. But many reach a point that their alcohol consumption no longer makes them happy. And as one’s body acclimates to regular doses of the drug of alcohol, more is required to feel alcohol’s effects.        

According to the National Institutes of Health, sales of alcohol were up by 54 percent from stores and 262 percent online for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with the same week in 2019.

Overall, store purchases increased 21 percent and online sales increased 234 percent during the pandemic. So if your drinking habits changed during the pandemic, you were not alone.        

Nicole Cutts, a clinical psychologist and success coach, says, “As in any time of stress, people may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms. This can be problematic for a couple of reasons: You are not learning to cope in a healthy way, and overuse of alcohol is linked to many health problems.”        

Cutts further advises that because alcohol is addictive, “It’s much better to learn healthy ways to cope, like exercise, meditation and talking to supportive friends or professionals.” As some alcoholics in recovery say, “If you don’t talk it out, you are more likely to drink it down.”        

Maybe your predinner cocktail became a bottle a night after a while. Maybe alcohol was a salve when you became lonely. But can you dial it back now that the pandemic has ended?        

There are many people who can drink just one drink. We alcoholics call those people “normies.” My mother is one. She can take it or leave it. She can leave wine in a glass without finishing it. That’s unthinkable for an alcoholic like me. 

It is hard to admit you are an alcoholic. I choked on the words the first time they left my mouth during a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I thought that alcoholics were the bums who lived under the bridge. I had no idea until I entered the rooms of AA that alcoholics are from all walks of life. I have learned as much from homeless, sober brothers and sisters as I have from doctors, lawyers and priests who populate the meetings. AA is the most welcoming, least judgmental community I ever have experienced. As my sponsor said, “We will love you until you can love yourself.”        

My alcoholism accelerated when my children became teenagers and started pushing me away. I had put all of my eggs in the motherhood basket and felt rudderless when my kids began asserting their independence from me. Who was I if they did not need me the way they had? I had willingly given up my law career to be an at-home mom. It was a privilege. But I no longer felt needed at a certain point in my children’s teen years. I found refuge in white wine. My wine habit devolved into a two-bottle-a day-habit. I even brought to-go cups with me and drank while driving. I could have killed someone with my recklessness.        

When I stopped drinking cold turkey, I had the sweats and shakes for two days. During my physicals I had lied to my doctor, who asked how much I drank. The liver enzyme readings during my physicals belied my words. I was in deep denial. In AA, we say denial is an acronym for “Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying.”        

I certainly had not accepted that alcoholism is a disease when I first joined AA. I believed, as do so many, that alcoholism is a moral failing. I now know that is not true. There is a genetic component to alcoholism, as well as environmental factors that contribute to alcohol use disorder. It is no one’s fault. But there is a way out.        

When I got sober, I thought I would never have fun again. While I did have to stay away from bars and friends when they were drunk, at least until my sobriety became stronger, I found that my life grew richer with experiences. And I remembered them! Moreover, I no longer lost time with hangovers, so I had more time to enjoy life.        

The meaning of happiness has changed for me at this stage in my life. Happiness no longer equates only with pleasure or excitement. It is longer-lasting. It is a sense of being at peace with myself. It is not having secrets. It is serenity and contentment.        

Now that we have emerged as a society from a dark and isolating period, it may be time to evaluate your drinking habits. Can you limit the amount of alcohol you drink and even stop for a week or two? Has your alcohol use affected your work or damaged any of your relationships? Are you hiding how much you consume or taking risks you would not normally take, such as driving while under the influence?        

Many AA meetings are open to the public. Check one out. Many are still online. And Al-Anon, which is for people who are in relationship with addicts or alcoholics, can benefit everyone. Al-Anon is all about setting healthy boundaries and having good relationships with others. Those meetings, too, can be found online or attended in person. And both of these fellowships are available worldwide. Some believe that the opposite of addiction is connection. You do not have to go through this alone. Asking for help is an act of courage.

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