In March of 2020, chaos emerged as a result of our first lockdown. As businesses began shutting down, alcohol sales rose to astronomical numbers and began taking over, 'comforting' millions of Americans. Unfortunately, this number increased over the months, showing the severity of abuse. After two years into the pandemic, has our mental health and coping improved? Or is it just as bad?
It’s no surprise that we are relying on alcohol (or other substances) to calm our anxiety. Together, we experienced the loss of loved ones. Unemployment led to financial stress and food insecurity, which swept the nation into miles of stretched food bank lines. It's no surprise that one of the biggest reasons for substance abuse is social isolation. As our socialization habits deteriorated, our mental health became a bigger concern.
Women Drinking More Than Ever
Typically, men consume more alcohol than women. However, since the pandemic began, this finding has started to take a turn. Men's consumption has stayed fairly level, only increasing by approximately 8%. The alarming numbers are mostly coming from women. Alcohol consumption increased for women by 10%. This number includes binge drinking (four or more drinks every two hours), which increased their numbers by a staggering 23%.
While a shocking number, it's not overly surprising as a majority of the women stayed home to care for and homeschool their children when everything transitioned remotely. Because they couldn’t find childcare, many women were forced to quit their job, meaning a loss of income.
Although typical for individuals to have a few drinks during the week to unwind (the recommendation is no more than 7 for women and 14 for men/week), the pandemic has turned the occasion into a reliant one. Building an unhealthy habit increases the chance of an alcohol-use disorder. Those, especially those having to homeschool children, that increased their drinking were parents who rarely drank alcohol pre-pandemic.
If the 800,000 COVID-related deaths aren’t bad enough, the alcohol-related deaths are causing an added strain on front-line workers and loved ones. A report stated a 54% increase in national alcohol sales for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared to one year prior; online sales increased to 262% from 2019. Three weeks later, the World Health Organization sent out a warning regarding alcohol use during the pandemic that may potentially worsen health concerns and “risk-taking behaviors.” A warning only has so much effect on individuals, and it’s understandable for people to cope in some way with the last few years that we’ve had. Luckily, many individuals called the national helpline, organized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This hotline is a safe and beneficial source, providing help to those facing emotional distress during times of need. From February to March of 2021, SAMHSA saw a 338% increase in calls. Even with an increase in individuals seeking help with this hotline, 95,000 people are dying from alcohol-related causes each year.
Little things Making a Difference
To cope with the isolation and anxiousness each day, we have to learn to make healthy habits for ourselves and those around us. Being vaccinated has brought us a long way from where we were even a year ago. The vaccine has now allowed us to spend holidays with family and no longer be cooped up in our homes. Although we are still fighting COVID, we've figured out ways to be around people and do activities outside. Kids are back in schools, where teachers can educate them. Jobs are growing more than ever, with over 11 million opportunities available. These factors alone may not be a quick fix for our mental health, but it’s a positive step in the right direction.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health and/or substance abuse disorder and needs help, call SAMHSA’s free hotline 1-800-662-HELP (4357), available 24/7/365.
Author : Jennifer Dutton, Blog Writer, DrinkLyte Co. "Helping Grow CPG Brands Beyond Their Potential"