As of March 10th, 2021, we have officially reached the one-year mark in the State of Michigan since the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. The global pandemic has had drastic impacts on daily life, how people function, and how people handle stress. Many of us have seen the headlines in the news around a spike in alcohol sales and consumption during this time, but what does this mean? Those of us working in the field of addiction treatment are noticing a scary trend, increased use of alcohol and other substances. With alcohol being an easily available substance for most it is important to be aware of the risks associated with heavy alcohol use.
Heavy alcohol use is defined by the CDC as consuming 8 or more drinks per week for women, and 15 or more drinks per week for men. Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking and is defined by the CDC when 4 or more drinks are consumed during a single occasion for women, and 5 or more for men. Both binge and heavy alcohol consumption has a variety of risks associated with it, and as more individuals turn to alcohol during times of stress it is more important than ever to understand the risks of this type of drinking and how to reduce these risks.
Short term risks of heavy drinking include injuries such as falls, accidental deaths, violence, homicides, assaults, intimate partner violence, and other medical emergencies due to over consumption. In addition to injuries, heavy drinking can result in high risk behaviors such as unprotected sex or having multiple partners, contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and increased mental health symptoms. Long term risks include developing cancers, worsening of underlying health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, immune deficiencies, or an increased risk of infection and illness. Other long-term risks include severe mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, loss of jobs, family instability and more.
The unfortunate reality is that many Americans consume more alcoholic beverages than what is currently recommended. For many, alcohol feels like an easy way to deal with the stress and get through the day. While alcohol may feel like it is solving this need in the short term, the truth is that long-term impacts often are much more extreme and can result in an alcohol use disorder, hospitalization, and even death.
So, what can we do? Practice healthy habits by starting small. For most of us that means sticking to a routine, developing new safer coping skills and when needed, connecting with services in your community including counseling and resources to learn healthier ways to manage your stress.
- Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet
- Attend to your medical care
- Find supportive people you can talk with
- Get enough sleep
- Stay within the safe drinking guidelines
Click here to visit the CDC website and get a deeper look into excessive alcohol use and learn the safe drinking guidelines.
By: Bob Smith, LMSW, CAADC, CCS