For the majority of her life, Andrea Carbone, a 51-year-old paralegal living in Florida, wasn’t a big drinker. But when the pandemic struck, she worried constantly about her job, her health and the safety of her children.
While many people could work from home a year ago, Ms. Carbone was needed to go in the office. Some mornings she would shout in her car as she drove along deserted highways and roads for her office in downtown Tampa, which looked, she said, “like a ghost town. ”
As her anxiety levels soared, so did her alcohol intake. Before the pandemic, Ms. Carbone would have a glass of red wine with dinner most nights. But by May, her intake had increased substantially. I noticed I was having a glass of wine once I got home, then a glass with dinner, then wed sit down to watch TV and Id have another glass or two, she said. “ At the end of the night I was drinking a bottle. ”
Ms. Carbone is far from alone. The widespread fear, frustration and social isolation surrounding the tumultuous events of yesteryear — the pandemic, civil unrest, political upheaval — caused anxiety levels to skyrocket, with lots of people raising their alcohol intake. Women and parents of young children appear to have been hit particularly hard. A nationwide survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association in February found that one in four adults reported drinking this past year to handle their stress. That rate more than doubled among those who had children between the ages of 5 and 7.
Another study published in JAMA Network Open in October found that Americans increased the frequency of their alcohol consumption by 14 percent compared to a year before. But the same study found a 41 percent gain in the number of days on which women drank heavily, defined as having four or more drinks in a couple of hours.
“Women have disproportionately left the labour force entirely in comparison to men; they’ve disproportionately taken on the work around the house , the child care, along with the kid ’s education,” said Michael S. Pollard, the lead author of the JAMA study and a senior sociologist at the RAND Corporation. “So, it stands to reason that women would increase their alcohol usage disproportionately as well. ”
The emotional damage from the last year has caused sharp declines in physical health, including widespread weight gain and disruptions in sleep. Hospitals around the country have reported an increase in admissions for hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure and other forms of alcohol-related diseases. Almost no group was spared.
Driftwood Retrieval, an addiction and mental health rehabilitation center in Texas, had had numerous requests for treatment last year it has a two-month waiting list. Vanessa Kennedy, Driftwood’s manager of psychology, said that many of her customers are parents who started drinking heavily as they struggled to balance their day jobs with home-schooling and other civic responsibilities.
Theyre used to having their kids go off to school and having an experienced teacher to teach their children while they go to work and concentrate on performing well and providing financial support for their loved ones, said Dr. Kennedy. Their work functions are contradictory with their parenting roles and its been difficult for them to make space and do these things well. ”
Dr. Kennedy has treated a wide assortment of patients that turned to excessive drinking this past year. Some lost their jobs or shuttered their companies, which left them without daily structure and the capacity to provide for their families. Others were college students who felt socially disconnected when they were sent home to perform virtual schooling, or elderly adults who drank because they were miserable that they couldn’t see their nearest and dearest or hug their grandchildren.
Before this past year, Gordon Mueller, a retiree who lives in Rochester, N.Y., rarely consumed more than a couple of drinks a day. However, if the pandemic struck and the market and stock market stumbled, Mr. Mueller was consumed by anxiety as he followed the news and worried about his retirement accounts. As Mr. Mueller sheltered in place at home with his wife, his alcohol intake escalated to seven drinks a day: vodka cocktails in the afternoon, wine with dinner, and a whiskey nightcap before bed. We had no idea if we were going to financially get through this thing, let alone become sick and possibly die, he said. “It was just a lot of fear and boredom. Those were the two emotions. ”
But many individuals have discovered novel ways to rein in their drinking. In December, Mr. Mueller turned to Moderation Management, an online community that helps people who want to cut back on their drinking but not always abstain. He started attending Zoom calls with other members and using the organization’s personal Facebook group to learn tips and advice to lower his drinking. Then, in January, he decided to give up alcohol for a while to see how he would feel.
Im happy to say that I havent had a drink this year, and I feel a lot better: I sleep better, and that I will get more things done, he said. “The wonderful thing about this moderation group is that it’s not an all-or-nothing ‘You can never drink again or you’re a failed alcoholic’ approach. ”
Back in Tampa, Ms. Carbone began using a popular app named Cutback Coach, which helps people track their alcohol intake and establish reminders and goals so that they can develop healthy drinking habits. Using the app, Ms. Carbone makes a strategy for how much she will drink each week. The app tracks her everyday intake, sends her notifications about her objectives, and updates her on her progress, including all the calories she averted and the money she saved by drinking . She now has two “dry” times per week and has cut her drinking in half.
Seeing the progress that Ive made makes me feel good and makes me keep doing it, she said. “I sleep a lot better. I wake up less at night. I wake up feeling less sluggish, less tired, and Ive been going to the gym more frequently, whereas before I cant drag myself there. ”
For people who wish to reduce their drinking, here are a few basic tips which may help.
As opposed to relying on willpower alone, create a plan every Sunday to limit your drinking to a specific amount each day of the week and stay with it. This is a tactic called precommitment, which Cutback Coach uses to help its thousands of members. The idea behind it is that you increase your odds of success by committing to a plan and restricting your ability to back out later on. Some other cases of precommitment are deciding not to keep junk food in your house and encouraging you to exercise by scheduling a workout with a friend. Studies reveal that precommitment is an effective way to change behavior.
Find Social Support
Talk to your spouse, a friend or a family member about your strategy to drink less. They can hold you accountable and help you find healthier ways to handle your stress. Make a plan to go for a walk with your friend or spouse at the end of the day, by way of example, instead of opening a bottle. You might realize that you’ve got a buddy who says, why dont we go play tennis or do something else to unwind after work, said Dr. Kennedy. “There are a lot of advantages to trying healthy activities rather than the wine. ”
Establish rules to slow your drinking. Mary Reid, the executive director of Moderation Management, follows a very simple rule which helps her avoid drinking heavily: Each glass of wine she drinks has to last at least one hour. My most powerful tool is time my drinks, she said. We always tell new members that we do have to stop buttons, but we just ignore them. ” Dr. Kennedy in Driftwood employs a similar rule. She tells people to substitute every alcoholic drink they have with a glass of water.
Change Your Routine
Some folks drink more out of habit than an actual desire for alcohol. Try to substitute sparkling water or another drink for your usual drink. Mr. Mueller used to have a cocktail every night while watching the evening news. But when he cut back on alcohol, he switched to drinking a cup of tea or nonalcoholic beer whilst watching the news and realized he simply needed a beverage to sip. I have a glass in my hand but it doesnt have alcohol, he said. “It’s almost like having a glass in your hand is your habit rather than the alcohol. ”