It's Okay to Talk About the Pandemic's Impact on Your Relationship With Alcohol

It's okay to admit you can't beat this personal pandemic alone.


It's okay to talk about the fact that the pandemic led you into a habit of drinking more than you feel good about. It's also okay to talk about the fact that you're finding it tough to shut off your drinking even though your life has returned to a relatively normal pace. Speaking up might save your life.

I think it can be very hard for people to objectively look at unhealthy drinking habits that may have started during the pandemic because they feel so justified in using alcohol to cope. After all, many people had few resources for getting through such dark, uncertain times. However, the pathology of why and how pandemic-driven alcoholism started isn't necessarily different from how any unhealthy relationship with alcohol has ever started. It's just that people who may have been better insulated in other times lost all of those usual safety buffers in their lives. People who were already struggling with alcohol usage suddenly had all guardrails lifted.

As the CEO of The Ohana Luxury Rehab in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, I've seen the way that COVID-19 earthquakes continue to disrupt lives. For people who turned to alcohol to cope with the stress of the pandemic, a second pandemic also emerged in the winter of 2020. People are losing careers, family, reputations and their lives to alcohol addiction and dependency because they didn't anticipate how difficult finding the "off button" could really be. This isn't just anecdotal information from a clinic CEO either.

According to a study recently cited by the Harvard Gazette, the increase in alcohol use that occurred just during the pandemic alone will result in more than 1,000 additional cases of liver cancer, 18,700 cases of liver failure and more than 8,000 additional deaths by the year 2040.

Yes, it's startling.

The phenomenon of turning to alcohol during the pandemic was something people did to cope during a tense time. Drinking soon replaced working out at the gym, walking with friends, visiting parks and all of the other daily activities that were ripped away from so many. People lifted their cocktails for a toast over Zoom. Celebrities shared their favorite cocktail recipes. Alcohol sales soared.

Something interesting that has emerged amid pandemic drinking trends is that women have been found to be at greater risk for alcohol addiction than ever before. A study published on the changes in adult alcohol use and consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States found a 41% increase in heavy drinking days among women. For many women, social cocktails were replaced by Zoom wine meetings that didn't quite fulfill the need for social connection that in-person gatherings did. The solution was often an extra glass of wine. Some women simply replaced "wine night with the girls" with drinking alone. People who had been social drinkers only for their entire adult lives suddenly become solo drinkers.

Moving Forward From Pandemic Drinking

I'm certainly not here to wag fingers at anyone who found comfort any way they could during the pandemic. As a person living a sober life, I can say that I don't think there's ever been a better time than today to take an honest look at how your drinking habits have ticked upward since 2019. While my job isn't to diagnose you with a problematic relationship with alcohol, I can shine a light on some behaviors that indicate that you may be at an important crossroads. Answer yourself honestly if any of these signs apply in your life:

  • You feel bristly toward any criticism of your drinking.
  • You feel guilt or shame over your alcohol habits.
  • You've had at least one morning where the first thing you did after waking up was take a sip of alcohol.
  • You need alcohol to "steady your nerves" before starting your day.
  • You often drink early in the morning to treat a hangover from the night before.
  • You often drink more than you want to.
  • Drinking has caused you to end up in dangerous or unsafe situations.
  • You constantly have to drink more just to get the baseline effect.
  • You're missing family or work obligations because of drinking.
  • You're still drinking even though you've experienced blackouts.
  • If you don't drink, you experience anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, shaking, sweating, nausea or mood issues.

It's okay to admit you can't beat this personal pandemic alone. You may even be at a point where the people in your life have expressed their concern over your drinking. I can only be sympathetic to anyone struggling with drinking that began during those dark days of the pandemic. However, I also implore you to get any and all forms of help available to you to make changes in your life before drinking takes everything.

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