Alcohol use has increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses report that alcohol sales are up and surveys show that people are drinking more, often as a way to cope with the anxiety and stress of the pandemic. It’s even popular on social media to name cocktails after the virus or quarantine, and although the memes are all in fun, engaging in risky behaviors is no joke.

History shows us that the stress and anxiety associated with a crisis such as a pandemic can lead to substance abuse, other addictive behaviors, and violence.

Not only does alcohol decrease the body’s ability to fight off infection, which is obviously not a good thing during a pandemic, but it’s also a poor coping mechanism because alcohol is a depressant that can worsen mental health.

For that reason, the World Health Organization has issued an advisory stating that alcohol should be limited, and preferably avoided altogether, during the pandemic.

Specifically, stress and anxiety can lead to depression, and depression has been linked with excessive drinking, drug abuse, unsafe sex, self-cutting, and other self-harm. Violence against women and children has also been reported as a concern in times of crisis, especially when people are stuck at home for long periods of time.

For people who were already battling addiction or were in recovery before the pandemic, the risks are particularly serious. Treatment may be delayed, or efforts to stay sober, stay clean, quit smoking, stay on a healthy diet, or control anger issues may have been derailed.

If you find yourself turning to alcohol, drugs, or addictive behaviors — including non-substance addictions such as excessive online shopping or gambling — or other self-harm, or if you are having trouble maintaining recovery from addiction or other harmful behaviors, seek help right away. Call your provider for guidance, get mental health counseling, and take steps to reduce your stress and anxiety so you can maintain or regain control. If you are or were in a recovery program before the pandemic and haven’t been able to attend meetings, check to see if online meetings are available.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a great resource for finding online and other support for a number of mental health concerns. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a helpful list of resources as well.

This video interview by Pack Health Clinical Director Dr. Vipul Shah, featuring UAB addiction medicine specialist Peter Hendricks, Ph.D., also provides some excellent advice for addressing substance-use issues in these tough times. Also, check out these Pack Health articles for tips on managing stress and anxiety and using telehealth to attend to your physical and mental health concerns, and be sure to check in with your Health Advisor for support and additional resources. We’re here to help!

If you are a victim of domestic violence, help is available. The American Psychological Association urges you to seek assistance and has provided the following list of resources: