How to deal with increased alcohol use related to pandemic stress

Research shows rise in alcohol use amid public health crisis, especially among women

How to deal with increased alcohol use related to pandemic stress

Research has clearly shown that alcohol use has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, and experts are saying this is a good time to reassess the drinking habits you may have developed over the past year.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that overall alcohol use increased by 14% compared to 2019. For women specifically, alcohol use increased by 17% over the past year.

Even more importantly, for women, there was an increase in the results of a self-reported score that suggests alcohol-related problems increased for nearly 1 in 10 women.

Related: Increase in alcohol-related deaths over past 2 decades in U.S. is jarring

Addiction medicine specialist Dr. Elizabeth Bulat says experts have seen an increase in women consuming alcohol more heavily and earlier in the day than before.

“With women, in particular -- and this could be men, too -- we’ve seen a trend with the home schooling increased responsibilities at home, not knowing the financial situation at home and ... isolation.”

While women are certainly at risk, Bulat also says that more people who live alone have been drinking more frequently, attributing that increase to isolation and loneliness.

Now that things are returning to normal across much of the U.S., experts like Bulat suggest reassessing any alcohol habits that might have changed during the pandemic, and to be ready to have an honest conversation with your family or your doctor.

“If you’re noticing that you are drinking more than you used to, or using it to sleep or deal with anxiety and stress -- have that conversation,” Bulat said.

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Experts say there are warning signs that you should be on the lookout for.

“In terms of red flags: continued use despite negative consequences, I think is a big one; having cravings; continued desire to quit or stop but unable to; and of course, health issues and interpersonal relationship issues,” Bulat said.

In some cases, a person’s relationship with alcohol may be problematic enough to require professional help to address it.

“What I would suggest is first just having a conversation with a medical provider, determining if (the person) needs to consider detoxification and actual inpatient treatment, or if this is something that can be done by just cutting back,” Bulat said. “If somebody is drinking where it’s considered ‘in moderation,’ look at embracing new, healthy habits, working out, finding different things that folks used to do pre-COVID that they are able to do now.”

More: Men should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day, experts say

First and foremost: Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about your drinking.

If you are concerned that your drinking may have reached a troubling point, and you struggle to cut back on your own, the first step is to talk to your doctor.

If you don’t have a personal physician, there are many online resources that can help move you in the right direction.

More: Good Health stories

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.