How Alcohol Became More Normalized During COVID-19

By Rachel Hughes, MBA

It’s harrowing to think that a little over a year ago our entire world was shut down. We didn’t know that most of us would be working from home, that we wouldn’t be allowed the simple luxury of going out to eat with friends and family or that we wouldn’t be able to hug our loved ones for a very long time.

How could we know? Maybe even the first week, we thought that we could get through this. But days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months and those months hit one year this March. One year of social distancing, 6 feet apart and talking about the possibility of vaccinations.

If you’re anything like me, being in recovery, COVID-19 added new and different struggles that I hadn’t faced before. If you’re not in recovery like a lot of my friends and acquaintances, COVID-19 added new and difficult struggles that they hadn’t faced before. Isolation and accessibility to alcohol played a huge part in normalizing the amount and frequency that people began drinking during the pandemic.

COVID-19 is an isolating sickness. Alcoholism is an isolating disease. Two of the most isolating pandemics were given the opportunity to isolate with each other, console each other and completely unhinge with each other. They fed off each other and so many people I knew or knew of could not handle the isolation from both and relapsed because of the sheer loneliness. We couldn’t go to meetings and sometimes a zoom meeting just wasn’t enough to get us through our day-to-day lives. The fellowship that those in recovery so greatly needed in order to keep going, one day at a time.

If isolating ourselves from the world wasn’t bad enough, we could isolate and drink. I remember the day that they announced on television during a press conference that you could order alcoholic beverages to go for carry-out. I remember thinking if I wasn’t in recovery, what a time to be alive. My alcoholic self would have been ordering drinks to my door like there was no tomorrow. The access of alcohol was easier. People didn’t have to drive to the store or even leave the comfort of their own home. You could order a margarita from your favorite restaurant down the street along with your lunch and do a zoom meeting with your coworkers all at the same time. Drinking at work was thought to be okay because people were working from home. But what happens when people go back to work and they can’t have a drink in the middle of the day? What kind of alcohol dependence will we see? What will employers do to help their employees that will have an Alcohol Use Disorder?

I remember my dad said it best, “COVID-19 either affects someone a little bit or a lot, but you can’t tell me it doesn’t affect a person”. It was true. Everyone was feeling the anxiety, depression and the unknown that came with COVID-19. Am I going to be laid off? How long will I have to work from home? Will there ever be a vaccine? Will the world ever open up? Will I get to hug my family? Instead of telling people to normalize talking to a professional during these hard times, social media and friends normalized filling up your wine glass and having those few extra beers to help you fall asleep at night. In Ohio, t-shirts, tumblers and glasses came out that said, “Wine with DeWine. It’s 2 o’clock somewhere”. Once again, society normalized the consumption of alcohol during a global pandemic instead of seeking mental health and addiction treatment for the well-being of people.

As a society, we should be giving people the tools they need to gain coping skills that alcohol won’t provide. Teaching society that it is okay to not be okay and asking for help is one of the bravest things you can do. Alcohol doesn’t help us get through tough times like a worldwide pandemic, it just numbs the feelings we don’t want to have and pushes everything down until the most inconvenient time in our life where we have no choice but to deal with it. So I implore you to ask yourself, are you happy? Do you think that your alcohol use has increased since this awful pandemic, and if it has, what support do you need so that alcohol doesn’t become a permanent crutch? Because you deserve a life that makes you happy, without needing alcohol to create that happiness.

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