Drinking Your Way Through the Pandemic?
Getting proactive about how and why you drink.
When listening to the stories, these were people who, a few weeks ago, were actually functioning very well, holding down jobs, living normal, day-to-day lives.
Within three weeks they’d become dependent alcoholic drinkers and needing detoxification rehab.
If you look at what lockdown meant to people’s lives — so first of all, having to get up every day to go to work and take the kids to school — all of that just stopped.
Somebody described it perfectly to me — ‘Every day is Friday night now’ — and there’s no reason to get up in the morning.
You add that to the isolation some people were feeling, the job insecurity, all sorts of stresses and strains in relation to the uncertainty for the future. Dr. Rob Hampton, BBC News
People are drinking more because of the pandemic. A lot more.
Nielsen reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with 1 year before; online sales increased 262% from 2019.1 Three weeks later, the World Health Organization warned that alcohol use during the pandemic may potentially exacerbate health concerns and risk-taking behaviors. JAMA Network
What does this dramatic increase in consumption mean for people’s health? For an already taxed-to-the-max social structure?
Research tells us that only 15% of people who use alcohol become addicted. And in most industrialized countries 70% of people above the age of 18 drink alcohol.
Alcoholics Anonymous has tools for abstinence but not for moderation.
Is it realistic for health promotion to preach abstinence during the pandemic.? Do you have to be “that guy” who doesn’t drink? You know, the guy who you think is silently judging you and your mojito.
What does the safe consumption of alcohol look like?
After all, alcohol is technically a kind of poison that our bodies must convert to less-harmful substances for us to enjoy a good buzz relatively safely. Precision Nutrition
COVID 19 is an infectious disease that enters through your respiratory system. It attacks and compromises your immune system.
Alcohol activates the immune system and causes inflammation. This weakens the body’s capacity to fight viral and bacterial infections. Excessive drinking then damages epithelial cells that line the lung’s surface. This can lead to conditions like acute respiratory distress syndrome.
By drinking, you now have an impaired immune system and you’re more susceptible to respiratory illness. Alcohol damages the exact defence mechanisms your body needs to battle the virus.
But what about the health benefits of alcohol?
“The evidence is adding up that no amount of drinking is safe,” says study co-author Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor of global health and health metrics sciences at the University of Washington. “I don’t think we’re going out on a limb to say anything that the data do not support.” The Lancet
This meta-analysis consists of 700 existing studies on global drinking prevalence and close to 600 studies on alcohol and health. They concluded that:
· Alcohol was the seventh leading cause of premature death
· That health risks increase the more your drink
· The modest cardiovascular benefits were far outweighed by the negative health hazards
If you don’t already drink, health experts recommend you don’t start. Most of the research on alcohol’s potential health benefits are large, long-term epidemiological studies. This type of research never proves anything. Rather than showing that X causes Y, it simply says that X seems to be correlated with Y. Precision Nutrition
There are too many other factors that aren’t considered in these epidemiological studies.
Moderate drinkers may also be moderate in other areas of their life-like nutrition and exercise.
There are huge physiological benefits to having a supportive social network. Family and friends that may have a moderate amount of alcohol as PART of their socializing. Alcohol isn’t the MAIN REASON for that socializing.
Individuals in these studies are blessed or cursed with different physiological attributes. We’ve all heard about the woman who lived to be 100 who drank and smoked every day of her life. These people are the outliers, not the norm.
In addition to a range of negative physical health associations, excessive alcohol use may lead to or worsen existing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, which may themselves be increasing during COVID-19. JAMA Network
Living in the middle of a disaster like a pandemic causes stress and anxiety. This can increase people’s misuse of alcohol. Social isolation due to physical distancing can further compromise mental health. And, the vicious cycle is, this anxiety and depression can encourage more drinking. Many people are no longer working so they drink to numb the panic over their financial future. Or they drink out of sheer boredom.
Although alcohol temporarily dampens the brain and body’s response to stress, feelings of stress and anxiety not only return, but worsen, once the alcohol wears off. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can cause adaptations in the brain that intensify the stress response. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Drinking doesn’t solve your anxiety and depression. It makes them worse.
One thing the pandemic has given us is time. Time to be a little more introspective about why we do what we do. It’s a great opportunity to examine how and why we drink.
1-BE YOUR OWN THERAPIST
Observe your habits around drinking. Keep track of all your alcohol use for one or two weeks. Then review and analyze the results. Are you mindless or mindful when you drink? Do you savour the aroma and the taste or do you slam the drinks back? Do you plan on having one drink and then end up having four? How did drinking affect your sleep quality? Are you refreshed or depleted the next morning? How about productivity? Does drinking get in the way of your goals and responsibilities?
This one had a lot of value for me. I made the decision a few years ago that feeling energized and productive the next morning was more important than having a few drinks tonight before.
2- WHAT’S THIS STUFF DOING TO MY BODY?
Is it compromising any fitness, performance or fat loss goals you may have? How about medical tests? What’s your blood pressure like? Do you have a genetic predisposition to heart disease or fatty liver disease?
Again, this one was revealing for me. As I started edging into my 40s I found my body just couldn’t metabolize alcohol like it used to. I’d wake up the next morning after two drinks and feel like I had five or six.
3-Does drinking change who you are?.
If you’re normally a quiet person are you more extroverted? Do you end up doing or saying things you later regret?
University. Enough said.
4-RUN SOME SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS ON YOURSELF?
If you tell yourself that you’re going to stop drinking for a month how does that make you feel? Can you follow through on that? Can you participate in an activity that always included alcohol without alcohol? Like supper with a friend or watching a game on TV. If you always have a drink as soon as you get home from work can you delay it for 10 or 15 minutes? How does that make you feel?
Once I made the decision that most of the time I’m not going to drink I found it surprising how little I missed it and how little other people cared.
If you make the decision to drink do it because it adds value to your life. Not because it's your default coping mechanism. Once you’ve analyzed your habits and explored the reasons you drink then make a conscious decision about what alcohol consumption looks like for you.