Published on July 21, 2020

closeup of alcohol being poured into glass with ice

Problem Drinking and the Pandemic

During the pandemic, a tendency to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs can become a more widespread problem. Matthew Stanley, DO, psychiatrist and Clinical Vice President of Avera’s Behavioral Health Service Line, shares insights on this topic:

Question: Are there signs that more people are using alcohol now, or using it more?

Answer: All sources point to that as a fact, and a number of studies also show a marked increase in alcohol sales. It’s a way that people are choosing to cope with all the events that feel out of control right now.

Q: Where is the tipping point between enjoying a drink and drinking too much?

A: A basic rule of thumb for men is about four drinks per setting or 14 each week. It’s three drinks per setting or seven each week for women. This level of alcohol use would be considered at-risk drinking, and it’s a quick way to self-evaluate. Another screening tool looks at questions, such as, do you feel guilty about your drinking? Do you need a morning drink to feel better physically? Do you feel like you’re letting someone down because of your drinking? Are they concerned about it?

If you have struggled with it at all, or you had concerns and you’re now laid off or away from work and structure has fallen away, it’s easy for things to change. You might stay up later or get into bad health habits. Many people are experiencing those changes in behavior, and we’re also seeing an increase in anxiety, depression and fear. It’s widespread.

Q: If you see someone is at the tipping point, how do you try to help them?

A: Avoid making it a source of conflict. Sometimes they might be drinking more and not realize it; they may lack awareness. Talk to them about what they are feeling, and center your words in a caring conversation. Ask them how they feel, and if they feel they’re having troubles. If you and your friend or loved one agree, that yes, there’s a problem, it’s a good time to get help. This may range from seeking counseling to entering an outpatient or residential treatment program.

For loved ones, there are resources out there that can help. But if it is becoming a big problem and you feel overwhelmed, especially if you’re not getting the response you hoped for from the person drinking, get some professional aid. Sometimes a licensed counselor can help you intervene or give you strategies to cope with the situation.

Q: What does the Avera Addiction Care Center offer?

A: First and foremost, we want the community to know one thing: we are here for them, regardless of the pandemic and the realities that come with it. We offer multiple levels of care, and in some ways, this might be a good time to seek help. In the times before the upheaval that came with COVID-19, it may have been more awkward. But we’re here and we’re open, and you can call to get an assessment and see what level of care is appropriate. We continue to serve the community because conditions like problem alcohol consumption could lead to addiction, loss of health and even death.

You can call 605-504-2222 to talk to a staff member who will ask basic questions and help you understand what options may be available.

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