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When New Jersey’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders took effect in March, liquor stores remained open — one of the businesses deemed essential. Between March and June, retail sales of alcohol nationwide were up 26% compared with the same period last year, according to the Nielsen Corp.
“People are drinking more, and people in recovery are relapsing,” said NewBridge Services Director of Addiction Services Derk Replogle.
Anxiety, stress and boredom arising from the pandemic have contributed to excessive imbibing. In a 1,000-person survey conducted in April by the nonprofit research institute RTI International, 35% of participants reported drinking excessively, and 27% had been binge-drinking.
“People who are drinking to suppress unpleasant emotions are heading into dangerous territories,” Replogle said.
Heavy drinking — that’s having more than four drinks on a single day or 14 a week for men and more than three drinks in a day or seven a week for women — has serious health ramifications, raising risks for liver disease, heart disease, a number of cancers, and accidents. More pressing, it suppresses the immune system, which can make drinkers more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, and experiencing more severe effects of the virus, Replogle said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol consumption can increase the risk of pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can be brought on by the coronavirus.
Replogle, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, outlined ways individuals can take to curb drinking:
“Don’t feel guilty, but don’t ignore it either,” he said. “If you are beginning to think you have a problem, you have a problem.” He suggests starting by listing the benefits of cutting back on drinking. Set a limit on how much you will drink in a week, and track your consumption. Don’t keep alcohol on hand, and designate several days a week as alcohol-free.
Pursuing hobbies, enrolling in academic courses, and learning a new language are the kinds of activities that bust boredom and steer individuals away from drinking, he said. Hiking, biking and bird-watching have the added benefit of getting you outdoors and moving your body, he said.
Perhaps Replogle’s most important advice is this: if you are not able to cut back, seek help. Alcohol consumption is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Nearly 90,000 U.S. residents die from alcohol-related causes annually.
Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsion and preoccupation with alcohol (or other substance) and requires treatment. “Addiction is a disease of isolation,” he noted.
Abusing alcohol can damage close relationships, affect careers, and result in costly legal problems. (Motorists pulled over for a first drunk-driving offense may spend more than $10,000 in legal fees, fines and other costs to resolve the matter, Replogle said.)
Drinking lowers inhibitions. For example, a person who normally practices social distancing may become less careful when drinking. That’s become a bigger concern since the state relaxed limits on gatherings.
“It is rare we make good decisions when impaired,” Repolgle said. People who stay within the low-risk limits of drinking have the lowest rates of alcohol-related problems, he added.
NewBridge Services provides both individual and group therapy for addiction. To learn more, call (973) 316-9333 or click here. In an upcoming article for National Recovery Month, Replogle, who holds a Master of Art degree in clinical psychology and is certified clinical supervisor, will explain the different types of addiction treatment and under what circumstances each may be more fitting. Click here to learn more about alcohol and your health from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.