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Alcohol use has increased sharply amid pandemic

Health

Alcohol use has increased sharply amid pandemic

To cope with pandemic-related stress, many people have been drinking more alcohol, raising concerns among health experts.
Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults say they drank more alcohol over the past year to cope with stress related to the pandemic. The finding was reported in a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association.
The results don’t surprise Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Victor Archambeau, who practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase,” says Dr. Archambeau, who overcame substance use dependency himself and now incorporates recovery into his medical practice.
The stress, boredom, isolation and uncertainty that many people felt during the height of the pandemic likely led to the increase in alcohol consumption, he says. And while consuming a periodic drink isn’t necessarily a concern, it can be easy to drink too much alcohol without recognizing that you have a problem.
Alcohol overuse can increase your risks for high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, stroke and liver disease. Cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety and insomnia are also potential side effects of heavy drinking.
Alcohol overuse can also have other consequences, including negative impacts on your relationships with others and your performance at school or work.
Warning signs that you may be consuming too much alcohol can include a preoccupation with drinking or increased cravings for alcohol.

Guidelines

To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm, the CDC recommends adults limit alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.
Although those guidelines are helpful in establishing a baseline for alcohol-related health risks, it’s important to remember that drinking too much isn’t always about a number, Dr. Archambeau says.
“If family members are talking about your drinking or if you’re feeling guilty the day after, you may need to cut down. If you are thinking ‘Gee, I really ought to cut down,’ it’s a sign you ought to cut down,” he says.
Legal issues or relationship problems related to drinking may be another clue you’re drinking too much.
“My rule of thumb is if your drinking is causing a problem in these areas, you probably have a drinking problem,” he says.

Loss of support

The pandemic has been especially hard for people who struggled with substance use issues beforehand, Dr. Archambeau says.
“The statistics are showing more people who were in recovery are using alcohol and other substances again,” he says. “It’s not just alcohol. It’s drugs, too. A lot of people just didn’t have their support systems in place,” he says.

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The pandemic forced meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to be canceled and social distancing guidelines prevented many face-to-face interactions.
Fortunately, many of those meetings are now happening again, which is helpful, Dr. Archambeau says. Plus, people are able to restart other activities that may have stopped during the pandemic.
“As things are starting to open up more, people are finding more outlets for stress release. They’re socializing again. And if they have a history of substance use problems, they are going to meetings since more live meetings are coming back,” Dr. Archambeau says. “All in all, it is improving. There is still a ways to go, but things are getting better.”
If you think you have a substance use disorder, consult your physician for help, Dr. Archambeau says, and explore resources online. Websites for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery list support meetings, whether in-person or virtual, and Face and Voices of Recovery Grand Strand can also help people find needed support.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Victor Archambeau

Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Victor Archambeau provides care at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island.

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