Topic: Alcohol Misuse
Question: I’ve noticed that one of my loved ones is drinking alcohol much more since the pandemic started – is this normal?
Melissa J. Henke, M.D.
Psychiatrist, Medical Director
North Dakota Professional Health Program & Heartview Foundation
There has certainly been an increase in alcohol use, including binge drinking, since the start of the pandemic, even among individuals with no prior history of addiction. However, deciding if this is “normal” is a much more difficult question to answer.
In order to meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder, an individual has to demonstrate a problematic pattern of alcohol use that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress. So, for example, if you are responsible for helping your children with distance learning, and all of the sudden you find yourself starting to drink at noon, then that is going to lead to some impairment. However, on the other hand, if you’re a person who normally drinks 2 glasses of wine 2 nights a week, but since the pandemic started you’re now drinking 3 nights a week, that may not necessarily cause extra issues in your day-to-day functioning (although it does increase your risk for impairment).
Ultimately, addiction is an illness of isolation, and the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased isolation among us all. Once individuals who are struggling with addiction get cut off from their supports, then they may really start to struggle. This means that it is important for all of us to make an effort to stay connected with each other, whether that be through video calls or simply text messages to check-in, in order to help provide support to those struggling with addiction. This may also potentially help someone realize when it is time to seek professional help.