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People With Anxiety and Depression Turn to Drink During COVID-19

Not only is the nation battling a pandemic and an unresolved opioid epidemic, but it could also be heading for an alcoholic epidemic. Recent research shows that people who suffer from anxiety and depression are more likely to drink over what is the legal alcohol limit to drive during the pandemic. This revelation is causing some concerns. Is the pandemic triggering a wave of problematic drinking in people with mental health problems? Are alcohol sales during COVID-19 skyrocketing?

 

Data on Depression, Anxiety, and Alcohol Consumption

Between March and April 2020, researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health ran a public survey via Facebook. This survey pulled data from 5,850 US citizens across 50 states. The study was published in Preventive Medicine

 

The researchers questioned the respondents on:

 

  • Alcohol use
  • Demographic status
  • Levels of depression and anxiety

People who already struggle with anxiety and depression are most likely to combat negative emotions during the pandemic by drinking alcohol. 64% of the survey respondents with depression reported they were drinking much more during the pandemic. 41% of those with anxiety reported increased alcohol consumption during the outbreak of COVID-19. This coincides with rising alcohol sales during COVID-19.

 

These figures suggest that roughly half of those drinking more heavily during the pandemic likely have a co-occurring disorder (a dual diagnosis of addiction and a mental health disorder).

 

Pre-pandemic, the US was already dealing with a growing alcoholism crisis. According to 2019 data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25.8% of over-18s reported binge drinking in the previous month. 6.3% said they engaged in heavy drinking.

 

These findings are alarming, as COVID is further fueling this simmering crisis. 

 

Alcohol Sales During COVID-19

Alcohol is sold legally and is the most widely abused substance in the US. It’s commonplace for people to use alcohol or drugs to cope with traumatic experiences and stress. The pandemic situation is heightening existing depression and anxiety levels. Reasons for this include:

 

  • Economic hardship
  • Fear of the virus
  • Isolation
  • Money worries
  • Routine disruption
  • Uncertainty about the future

Adults over the age of 40 with anxiety and depression were twice as likely to hit the bottle as those without.

Dual Diagnosis

When addiction is accompanied by a mental health disorder in cases of dual diagnosis, treatment is doubly challenging.

 

An individual with alcohol use disorder and an underlying mental health disorder is more likely to relapse. Also, they are also more prone to end up in a hospital or to become homeless than those without underpinning mental health conditions.

 

Depression and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the US.

 

18.1% of the US population report experiencing anxiety. Depression often accompanies anxiety. Nearly half of those diagnosed with anxiety are also diagnosed with depression.

 

Types of Anxiety

Anxiety is common, but it manifests in various forms for a wide variety of reasons. These can include:

 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Social anxiety disorder

Anxiety and depression can co-occur with other mental health problems such as:

 

  • ADHD
  • Bipolar 
  • Eating disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines
  • Stress 

Unfortunately, untangling these various disorders is complex, and so many people turn to alcohol or substances as a coping mechanism. 

 

The study above makes this abundantly clear. Other research shows similar results. After the 911 attack, it was reported that many people started to drink more heavily, for instance. The link between mental health and alcohol use is undeniable.

 

Drinking For Anxiety and Depression

Not enough people seek treatment for their anxiety and depression. If more people reached out for professional assistance with their mental health problems, there would be fewer cases of alcohol use disorder.

 

Generalized anxiety disorder affects 3.1% of the population but only 43.2% get treatment. This amounts to over 3 million people untreated.

 

Stress affects everyone. While it can seem tempting to drown your sorrows, alcohol does nothing to resolve emotional or mental health problems. Indeed, it exacerbates them. 

 

Alcohol can initially relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression as it triggers a dopamine response in the brain. Once the concentration of alcohol in your blood reaches a certain level, you become drunk.

 

Drinking to cope with stress is bad enough, but what happens when you get behind the wheel of your car after drinking?

 

The legal alcohol limit to drive in the US is 0.08%. One drink takes your blood alcohol level (BAL) up by roughly 0.02%. This means it takes 3 to 4 normal drinks to fail a roadside sobriety test in the United States.

 

What Is Blood Alcohol Concentration?

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is measured by calculating the ratio of alcohol (ethanol) to blood. The alcohol content is measured in grams, which is expressed as a percentage of the blood in milliliters. So, a BAC of 0.05 means there are 0.05 grams of alcohol for every 100ml of blood in your system.

 

Why Is Blood Alcohol Content Important?

Your liver has to work extra-hard when you consume alcohol. Typically, it takes an hour to metabolize a standard drink. A standard drink can be:

 

  • 12 fluid ounces of beer
  • 5 fluid ounces of wine
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of vodka, tequila, or whiskey.

If you drink to the BAC point of 0.08, you typically experience:

 

  • Impaired balance
  • Judgment issues
  • Loss of reasoning
  • Memory problems
  • Poor self-control
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed reaction time

Even before you reach the legal BAC limit of 0.08 you can experience various impairments such as:

 

  • Exaggerated behavior
  • Loss of control and inhibitions
  • Impaired judgment

When your liver has to metabolize a higher concentration of alcohol, it takes longer to break it down. If you binge, you can still damage your liver, even if you’re under the legal limit.

 

Binge drinking and regular heavy drinking beyond the legal alcohol limit to self-medicate for anxiety and depression only inflames the condition. It’s crucial to reach out for help if you’re suffering from anxiety or depression instead of turning to drink.

 

Getting Treatment

Seeking treatment is often the last thing on a person’s mind. As alcohol sales during COVID-19 rise, many people with an alcohol use disorder are unaware that they have a mental health disorder.

 

A reputable addiction treatment center can assess you professionally and give you the appropriate course of treatment.

 

You must get professional help to detox after prolonged heavy drinking. You can die if you don’t. Sudden withdrawal from alcohol can send your body into shock and cause a seizure or a heart attack.

 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is considered the gold standard of addiction treatment. This treatment program combines medication with cognitive behavioral therapy. The treatment is maintained with attendance at peer support groups. A reputable treatment center like Landmark Recovery can assess whether you have anxiety, depression. They can also diagnose any underlying mental health issues you’re not aware of.

 

It’s common for those struggling with an alcohol or substance use disorder to have an undiagnosed underlying mental health disorder. But, once the mental health disorder is treated, it’s perfectly possible to overcome the addiction to drink or drugs.

 

What Comes Next

If the pandemic is affecting your mental health and you drink regularly or excessively, we strongly suggest that you reach out to us here at Landmark Recovery.

Even if you don’t think you have a drinking problem, it’s worth getting checked out to prevent any drinking pattern from becoming more problematic. Call our friendly team today at 888-488-0302.

About the Author

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Landmark Recovery Staff

This post was written by a Landmark Recovery staff member. If you have any questions, please contact us at 888-448-0302.

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