Is the Pandemic Creating A Generation of Alcoholic Parents?
Dry January might be a good idea if you’re still day drinking this far into the pandemic.
I am no stranger to issues with drinking. On occasion, my problematic drinking has appeared in my writing, and it has sparked some raw conversations around the immense stress that modern parents, particularly mothers, face. Nevertheless, when my children’s school closed for lockdown in March 2020, there was a collective air of togetherness that seemed to include permission to slug back some stress juice. We would get through this, damn it! But as the pandemic dragged on, so did the drinking for me and millions of other exhausted and anxious parents.
At first, the general thinking seemed to be that lockdown would only last a couple of weeks and that this novel coronavirus emergency would get figured out by scientists and leaders. Surely this wouldn’t be as bad as 1918, right? In the meantime, to hell with normalcy, this once-in-a-lifetime density of stress was a job for alcohol.
Day drinking was ok, funny even.
There was a landslide of mom jokes online, of course. There were articles about spikes in alcohol sales. At least to me, it felt like a group resolve to survive no matter what, even if that meant eating junk food nonstop, Zooming in pajamas, and hitting the vino at 10:00 am.
During the beginning months of the stay-at-home orders in the US, Nielsen reported a sharp increase in alcohol sales nationwide at around 54% for the week it kept tally in March 2020. This same period revealed a breathtaking 262% increase from the year before. That’s a shit ton of alcohol. What’s worse, the World Health Organization noted that all this drinking could make the pandemic worse thanks to alcohol’s brilliant way of warping risk-behaviors.
My drinking got worse.
In my own house, the stress of pulling three kids out of school, moving my husband’s business to our home, in addition to never leaving our home, left me reeling with intense anxiety. So, I drank my way through the first few months. By the time autumn rolled around, I had drunk a full bottle of wine a day and gained the weight that comes with all those calories. But at some point, I realized that this new normal couldn’t be sustainable. I wasn’t surviving anything or even coping; I was getting drunk to ignore the stress of living in an unprecedented time.
My story is not unlike yours.
The ugly truth is that excessive drinking is common. And while it might be easy to say, well, these are unprecedented times, I can stop whenever I want. That’s not how alcohol abuse works. Anyone from any social rung and any background can quickly and almost imperceptibly morph from responsible drinking to problematic drinking.
Here are some sobering numbers that left me feeling an urgent need to wake up:
- Excessive alcohol use kills an average of 95,000 Americans a year.
- Those deaths are equal to 1 in 10 total deaths for Americans between the ages of 20 and 64.
- Excessive drinking is wildly expensive; it costs the country $249 billion a year.
- 1 in 7 adults, or 37 million, binge drinks once a week; the average number of drinks during a binge session is 7.
- Out of those who binge drink once a week, 9 out of 10 have severe alcohol use disorder.
Dry January is an excellent opportunity to reset.
Dry January started in England in 2014 by a group called Alcohol Concern in partnership with Public Health England. The first year they kicked off, an estimated 17,000 Brittons participated, and by the time it was over, more than 900 participants surveyed reported that 72% of them had “kept harmful drinking down,” and 4% were still not drinking.
If you have been thinking to yourself that you might be drinking more than usual these last few months or feel generally unwell after having a few drinks, try Dry January to hit the restart button. If you’re concerned that you might be developing a dangerous relationship with alcohol, you can take this quiz created by Alcohol Change.
It doesn’t matter if today isn’t January 1st. You can still do this. Here are a few tips to get through 30 days without alcohol:
- Remove the temptation. Start by getting rid of all the alcohol in your house and keep it out. If you can’t reach it, you can’t drink it.
- Find something to do. It’s weird how drinking takes up so much time, but the one obstacle you’ll notice right away is how bored it might feel. Nows the time to pull out that project you’ve meant to get done during the pandemic.
- Move your body more. I’m not saying start a P90X habit, but there is some truth that you feel good when you move your body more. Get your blood pumping. Get your heart rate up.
- Drink water. Staying hydrated is super healthy and will give you tons of excellent benefits, from better sleep to clearer skin. Also, it might even help heal your liver from all that drinking.
- Enlist a friend. It will become astonishingly apparent how much of a role alcohol plays in your life when you stop drinking. Have a friend join you for Dry January to keep yourself feeling accountable and successful.
What to do if you think you have a severe drinking problem.
Look, Dry January is a great thing. I love it and am committed to it, and I think every adult who drinks should give it a go. But some people need significantly more help than 30 days of a self-imposed social media challenge to stay sober. If you or someone you love needs help, here is a list of resources that you can turn to:
SAMHSA National Hotline 1–800–662-HELP (4357)
SAMHSA is a national hotline that is free and confidential. You can speak to someone in English or Spanish and get help with mental health and substance abuse disorders.
One of the oldest and most well-known support groups for those fighting alcohol use disorders, AA is a hugely popular resource with chapters worldwide.
If you want a Zoom style meeting with specific groups of people (women only, LGBTQA+ inclusive, religious, etc.), you can choose from online AA meetings here.
If you’re unsure where to start, the NIAAA is a great way to figure out what type of you support you might need or at least what is out there and available.