Drinking your anxieties away
Is alcohol really the answer for the quarantine blues? I want to preface this by saying I do understand. We’re in completely new territory here. A worldwide pandemic of epic uncertainty. People are bound to be a little scared, confused, and anxious. And there’s not really that much we can do about it, either, except stay at home and wait for the all clear signal from experts. I understand how frustrating that is, as most societies are full of doers who are used to being able to go out in the world and make things happen.
A disturbing trend
But I have noticed a disturbing trend among recent posts, articles, and memes shared on social media, and unless you’ve been quarantined under a rock, I’m certain you have, too. Posts about how the first thing people want to do when quarantine is over is go to a bar with friends and drink a gallon of margaritas. Memes about how coffee and alcohol are the only things getting us through the day. Images of alcohol delivery services being called the real heroes of shelter in place. Alcohol sales are up over 50% in the United States since the quarantine began, and many restaurants are now including beer, wine, and cocktail mix kits in their to-go options. The liquor store near me will even deliver the beverage of your choice right to your front porch with touch free service! Stores everywhere are limiting things like toilet paper (if you can find it) and dairy products, but you can buy as many bottles of alcohol as your cart can carry.
Maybe you’re fine
Now, I understand that most of you probably don’t have a problem with alcoholism. Maybe for you, it’s just a fun way to pass the time, and as soon as quarantine is over you’ll be able to put it down and never look back. But for so many of you, whether you had a problem in the past or not, the truth is—this is dangerous. Drinking, of course, isn’t inherently dangerous for most. But using alcohol—or any substance, for that matter—to change the way you feel on the inside is a dangerous step. I am not saying that drinking after a bad day means you’ll definitely slide into alcoholism. I’m certainly not condemning anyone to that.
But ask yourself:
Are you drinking because you just want a drink? Or are you drinking as a way of coping with the uncertainty you are facing, to help ease the knot in your stomach, or help you forget about your worries for a few hours? If it’s the former, no worries. If it’s the latter, let’s talk about it! Does drinking actually help rid you of your fears? Or is it just hitting the snooze button on an alarm that will increasingly get louder the more times you hit it? My guess is that you don’t realize it’s just the snooze button—all of the things that you were worried or stressed about will still be there tomorrow, and now you may have a headache to boot.
This is exactly how the cycle starts for many people
It’s an innocent misunderstanding of how your own psychological system works. We think something, we don’t like what we’re thinking, we can’t turn it off, so we look to the world outside and either try to change it, or, if we’re unable, we try to change how we feel. Our brains love a shortcut, and boy, is alcohol a shortcut. It’s a fast track to “This is all fine…I feel great”…until it dumps you on the side of the road with all the same problems, a nasty hangover, and maybe an alcohol addiction to boot. Or you feel great until you need a little more to feel great, then a little more, then more earlier, and so on. For most people, one drink doesn’t stay “just one drink”.
It’s in our culture
I certainly don’t blame anyone for thinking alcohol is an easy fix, our society practically blasts beer and wine as the solution in our music, memes, and overall culture. Everything from cheating spouses, no good bosses, and workplace woes—throw a shot or two of your favorite liquor at it and see how fast you feel better, that’s our motto. Except that culture is crippling us.
Are you worried at all about catching Covid-19?
Did you know that drinking alcohol suppresses your immune system? In fact, patients with Alcohol Use Disorder have an increased susceptibility to respiratory pathogens and lung injury—exactly like the contagious virus going around. Alcohol is one of the greatest predisposing factors to the development of pneumonia, which happens to be part of what makes Covid-19 so deadly. And this is just one tiny piece of what habitual drinking does to you physically, of course.
Drinking doesn’t just affect your individual health, either.
“Excessive alcohol consumption cost the U.S. $223.5 billion in 2006 alone, and nearly half of that burden was borne by the government, according to a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” Most of that cost was due to decreased productivity, but health care costs, costs associated with the criminal justice system, and costs related to the treatment of babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are also part of that. And although drug overdoses generally get more attention in our country, “alcohol use is actually responsible for more than twice as many deaths as drug use — making it the third leading preventable cause of death, according to the CDC.”
And don’t forget:
Our children are watching. They see just about everything we do, and they notice when we make jokes like “Mama needs her wine!” and “Wait until Dad has his beer!” When things get tough, especially, they are looking to us to see how we handle it. They are cataloguing our responses and our actions to file away for when they feel desperate, sad, or anxious. They won’t know why they feel the need to drink, they just know “this is what we do” when we feel mental anguish.
What you can do instead
- Acknowledge that you’re feeling angry/frustrated/scared/anxious/depressed/insert your emotion here. Acknowledgment of what is happening seems inconsequential, but it is actually a crucial step in understanding your own mental health. Sometimes it is all we need to lighten the burden—humans crave to have their voices heard, even just within our own minds sometimes.
- Take a moment to register WHAT you are feeling in your body—not the emotion, this time, but whatever physical thing you can actually feel. Are your muscles tight? Is there a pit in your stomach? Do you have a headache? Are you bone-tired with emotional fatigue? Work your way through your body from the top down like you are a doctor giving yourself a physical and notice the physical sensations only.
- Now that you have your list, ask yourself if you’re sure these physical sensations actually mean you are angry/frustrated/scared/etc. Maybe it’s a bit of a few things, maybe it’s something you can’t even name. The name of the emotion came from your head (from your memory), anyway.
- Now, be honest with yourself. Have you been taking care of this physical body these last few weeks? Have you been spending too many hours in front of Netflix? Are you feeding your body healthy foods or comfort junk out of stress or boredom? Maybe your gym is closed, but have you taken walks or jogs around your neighborhood? If you have been neglecting your physical body, naturally your mental state will throw up protest signs of its own, too. Make sure you are doing your part to keep the whole system running as smoothly as you can. Get some vitamin D outside, mix some vegetables in with your Pringles habit, and by all means, ensure you are getting proper and regular sleep. Nothing throws your mental balance off quite as quickly as bad sleep patterns.
Your first instinct is probably to try to figure out what you can DO about your problems, and that’s an admirable instinct. If you can find a way to resolve things, like call the bank, talk to your employer, make a game plan for your kids homeschool education…you should do that. But if you find that your situation is something you can’t resolve right now until some things change, that’s okay, too. Here’s where it gets a bit harder.
Acceptance sounds like I’m telling you to be a doormat. It sounds like I’m telling you to give up. I’m not. I’m telling you that if there is nothing on this Earth you can do about whatever situations you have going on, then worrying and stressing about it is not going to change it, either. I am suggesting that with that perspective, that this is a thing I cannot change, you can have the wisdom to accept that it will be what it is, and accepting will take away the suffering for you. I know that sucks to hear, but it just will.
But weirdly, acceptance has a sidecar that most people don’t notice, and that is freedom. It’s freedom to feel another way, freedom to look in a new direction, freedom for creativity and inspiration to strike. All of those things are blocked when we are stuck in suffering about how things should be. They aren’t available when we use alcohol or other substances to simply cope with how we feel. And they don’t come from anything outside of ourselves—they only come from within.
If you find yourself turning to alcohol or other substance to cope with whatever you are facing: you are not alone. Reach out to us. If we can help, we will, and if we can’t, we will help you find someone who can. We know that people are stressed right now. We want everyone to know that we are still here, ready to listen and guide people in the direction of their own health. Call 800.556.2966 for more information or to get in touch with someone who can support you.