COVID-19 induced stress is driving force behind increase of alcohol consumption, expert says

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina saw liquor purchases grow 16.6 percent in April when compared to the same time last year, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.

“It’s certainly concerning. We know that heavy alcohol use can have a number of consequences. It can effect physical health, mental health, cause increased sleep problems, a decreased immune system,” said clinical addiction specialist Heather Gallagher.

Gallagher works with the UNC Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program.

Alarmingly, women are seeing the greatest spike.

A study last fall by the Journal of the American Medical Association found the number of women drinking four or more drinks within a few hours jumped 41 percent.

COVID-19 and social media are partly to blame, said Gallagher.

“Whether it was an after-work happy hour, or college friends, or yoga with wine, or book club with wine a lot of that was paired with drinking,” said Gallagher.

Much of that drinking, Gallagher said, is due to COVID-19 induced stress.

Like “trying to work from home and trying to teach kids from home, there’s financial uncertainty, there’s fear about COVID in general or medical illnesses, isolation, we can’t do things we used to do, unemployment possibly,” she said.

As those concerns begin to ease and we get closer to normal the numbers aren’t going in the right direction when it comes to alcohol and the chance of addiction only increases.

“So people going back into the world with any or all of those is going to be problematic for them, for their family, for their co-workers. So I think potentially we could see a lot of problems,” said Gallagher.

If you are struggling, regardless of gender, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

If you are a family member or friend of someone you believe is struggling, Gallagher said to have a conversation with that person while remaining supportive and non-blaming.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The regional hotline for Alcoholics Anonymous (919) 783-6144.

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