April is traditionally Alcohol Awareness Month. This April, it may be more important than ever to draw attention to alcohol’s potential dangers, because the coronavirus has led to an upheaval in society that has impacted the way people are consuming alcohol.
In late March, when shut downs and stay-at-home orders were first being announced across the country, overall sales of alcoholic beverages spiked 55%, while online sales surged a whopping 243% over the same period last year. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, closing of the state run liquor stores raised concerns among health officials that hospitals might see an uptick in patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal. While no increase in withdrawal has been reported, it’s clear that alcohol is playing a key role in the way many people are responding to the coronavirus crisis.
A recent article in Global Health Now warned that layoffs, lost jobs, social isolation and loneliness could lead to wider alcohol use, posing a particular risk for people already struggling with substance use or chronic drinking. What’s more, uncertainty around the economy and the length of time it might take for stay-at-home orders to be lifted has created added stress that could lead more people to turn to alcohol. At the same time, recovery support groups have been forced to cancel meetings, leaving members more vulnerable, although, fortunately, many groups are offering virtual meetings and online support.
Equally concerning is the fact that alcohol can negatively impact the immune system. In particular, binge drinking four or five drinks or more can impede the body’s ability to fight off an illness such as the coronavirus. For young people who may continue to gather in groups to drink, the threat is even greater.
The bottom line is, people should be particularly conscientious about their alcohol consumption during this time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that alcohol be consumed “in moderation” with “up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.”