Binge Drinking and COVID-19 Don’t Make the Best Mix

Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: November 18, 2021

With most states issuing “stay-at-home” orders to their residents, it’s safe to say the majority of Americans are spending most of their time at home right now. The widespread directives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic encourage people to leave their houses only for necessities.

Schools have closed down. All businesses deemed “non-essential” have shut their doors. And chances are you’re a part of the 316 million people staying at home with roommates or family members for the time being.

How are you spending your newfound hours indoors? From the looks of a few swipes down any social media feed, drinking is a popular way for many people to pass their time at home. Countless memes capture the sentiment expressed by plenty: “Drink your way through the COVID-19 quarantine!”

Is drinking truly the best way to handle your time at home? Under normal circumstances, there’s nothing wrong with a drink or two at the end of the day for most people. The circumstances are far from normal at the moment, though.

How has COVID-19 quarantine affected Americans’ alcohol consumption over the past few weeks? Why have people turned to binge drinking during quarantine and how might it impact them in the long run?

COVID-19 Quarantine and Binge Drinking

When states started implementing stay at home orders, people nationwide found themselves with quite a few extra hours on their hands. Many turned to social media to share the various ways they’re spending that spare time at home.

There are home workouts, new recipes to try, and book clubs galore. There are also plenty of people turning to alcohol as a way to pass the time. Virtual happy hours stepped in to fill the gaps since gatherings in restaurants and bars aren’t possible at the moment. Just because you can’t meet up with your friends for a drink doesn’t mean the drinking isn’t happening.

Nielsen research showed a 55 percent spike in alcohol sales at the end of March. Memes about increased alcohol consumption or drinking early in the day are everywhere. People are posting pictures of their “quarantinis,” a joke term for cocktails under quarantine.

There’s a serious undertone beneath the veil of humor to consider, though. Why are people drinking so heavily right now? Is it as funny of a phenomenon as the seemingly endless supply of jokes try to make it out to be?

The Fear Beneath the Binge

Having a drink is a common way for people to take the edge off, to unwind and relax at the end of the day. It’s a way to shake away the stress and settle in for the evening. But that’s after a normal day under normal circumstances. The nation is under circumstances that are far out of anyone’s understanding of normal at the moment.

Millions of Americans lost their jobs over the past month. Schools closing down mean parents across the country need to find a way to occupy their children during the day. Bills are still due but many people are struggling to pay them.

The country is gripped by an overwhelming sense of unknown right now which resulted in widespread fear and panic. There isn’t much available in terms of outside activities to relieve the stress of staying indoors all day. The lack of a definite end leaves people feeling anxious and uneasy.

Now it feels like there’s a constant edge to be taken off. Reaching for a drink provides the quick relief that many people are looking for. Feelings of fear and panic are the catalysts fueling the binge drinking you’re seeing in friends or family, or maybe even yourself.

Is Binge Drinking an Effective Solution?

Having a few drinks may seem like a harmless way to pass the time under quarantine. You aren’t leaving the house, after all, so what’s the harm it could cause? You’re not driving, it doesn’t seem like you’re putting yourself in any real danger. Why shouldn’t you turn to alcohol during your COVID-19 quarantine?

It might feel like drinking with your friends on a video call relieves the anxiety of the unknown. Those stresses seem to slip away while you’re joking over cocktails. It’s easy to forget your fears while you have a buzz going. But what happens when the buzz wears off?

Those anxieties, stressors, and fears are still there. Drinking doesn’t take them away, it only keeps you from thinking about them for a few hours at a time. Binge drinking during the COVID-19 quarantine isn’t an effective way to manage your feelings. It only covers them with a temporary band-aid and you’re still left to deal with them later on.

Binge Drinking that Becomes More

You may develop a bigger problem if you use alcohol as a way to cope on an ongoing basis. It’s easy to justify a day or two of drinking on a video chat with your friends to relieve the stress. But what starts as a few days during the week can quickly become a habit if you aren’t careful.

While you won’t necessarily develop alcoholism, you’ll have a harder time cutting back on your drinking. Habitual binge drinking affects your ability to manage your mental state and eventually impacts your overall mental health.

It isn’t healthy to turn to alcohol as a tool to regulate or numb your emotions. Developing the habit of using alcohol to cope when things get tough may result in an alcohol dependence issue. If you start to rely on alcohol to manage your mental wellbeing you’ll quickly find yourself on a slippery slope.

Better Ways to Handle COVID-19 Quarantine

It’s best for your long-term health and wellbeing to completely cut out your drinking during COVID-19 quarantine time. Find productive ways to utilize your time at home instead of numbing yourself with alcohol.

Try out one of those home workouts or new recipes you see alongside the quarantini posts. You don’t need to develop a six-pack or become a meal prepping pro while in lockdown, but learning a few healthy habits can’t hurt.

Go for a walk or a jog, follow a yoga flow on YouTube, or try your hand at meditation. Find a project around the house that you’ve been meaning to get done. What about sitting down to watch a movie with your friends or family at home?

There’s likely a list of things you always said you’d try when you “had the time.” Is there anything on that list you could try doing now? Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a story or learn to sew. What about dusting off that old novel you started reading a while back?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to come out of quarantine with four new skills to add to your resume. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking the only way to handle quarantine is to drink your way through it, either.

Struggling to Stop Drinking on Quarantine?

Are you drinking during quarantine and realizing you aren’t able to stop? If you realized you aren’t able to quit drinking, finding an alcohol treatment program can help. There is a way out. Call us to speak to one of Peace Valley Recovery’s addiction specialists today. Whether it’s your first time trying to stop or you’ve been down this road before, take that step to get the assistance you need.

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