If you have found yourself drinking more during the pandemic
If you are considering suicide, seek help immediately. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also a Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.
A recent article in the Journal of Addiction Medicine reported changes in alcohol consumption in response to the COVID -19 pandemic in the United States. The researchers found that during the pandemic, there has been a 29% increase in the number of alcoholic drinks people are consuming, a 20% increase in those exceeding the recommended drinking limits, and a 21% increase in binge drinking. Among the researchers, the conclusion is that there is an association between the COVID-19 pandemic and the amount of alcohol consumption and that public health monitoring is warranted.
If you have found yourself drinking more during the pandemic, here are ten questions to ask yourself to help you determine if your drinking may have become harmful:
- How often do you have a drink containing alcohol? Never/Monthly or less/2-4 times a month/2-3 times a week/4 or more times a week (A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor)How many drinks containing alcohol do you have on a typical day when you are drinking? 1-2/3-4/5-6/7-9/10 or more
- How often do you have 6 or more drinks on one occasion? Never/Less than monthly/Monthly/Weekly/Daily or almost daily
- How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started? Never/Less than monthly/Monthly/Weekly/Daily or almost daily
- How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking? Never/Less than monthly/Monthly/Weekly/Daily or almost daily
- How often during the last year have you needed a first drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session? Never/Less than monthly/Monthly/Weekly/Daily or almost daily
- How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking? Never/Less than monthly/Monthly/Weekly/Daily or almost daily
- How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking? Never/Less than monthly/Monthly/Weekly/Daily or almost daily
- Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking? Never/Yes, but not in the last year/Yes during the last year
- Has a relative, or friend, or a doctor or other health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down? ? Never/Yes, but not in the last year/Yes during the last year
Item 1: Never=0/Monthly or less=1/2-4 times a month=2/2-3 times a week=3/4 or more times a week=4
Item 2: 1-2=0/3-4=1/5-6=2/7-9=3/10 or more=4
Items 3-8: Never=0/Less than monthly=1/Monthly=2/Weekly=3/Daily or almost daily=4
Never=0/Yes, but not in the last year=2/Yes during the last year=4
Maximum possible score=40. A score of 8 or more indicates a likelihood of harmful drinking behavior and warrants more careful assessment.
If you scored above 8, or even if you didn’t but feel that you sometimes drink too much alcohol, or that your drinking is causing problems, or your family is concerned about your drinking, talk to your clergy person or your doctor. They can help you determine if you need to cut back or quit altogether and steer you in the right direction.
Some resources for you also might consider are:
- Alcoholics Anonymous San Diego (includes a list of San Diego meetings): http://www.aasandiego.org/
- Dry January (tools and information about taking a one month break from drinking): https://alcoholchange.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/dry-january
- Consider reading: Quit Like a woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
We close with the full version of the Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (a shortened version is used in many 12-step programs:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
I Barbosa, C., Cowell, A. J., & Dowd, W. N. (2020). Alcohol consumption in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Journal of Addiction Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1097/adm.0000000000000767
The Rev. Suzanne Watson, M.D. came to medicine as a second career after 10+ years of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church where she served in congregations in California, New Zealand, and Connecticut, as well as on the staff of the Presiding Bishop in New York. She was also a candidate for Bishop of Alaska.
She attended medical school in her 20s, but left to devote time to raising her family. However, her dream of practicing medicine never died, and at the age of 50 she embarked on this vocational change. Part of her motivation was the loss of her physician husband to suicide. She is strongly committed to mental health advocacy, the reduction of stigma, and suicide prevention
She is currently in her last year of residency in Psychiatry at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is returning to San Diego this Summer and will be working at the VA hospital in La Jolla.