Rethinking drinking: It may be time to step away from the ‘quarantini’

by Judy Stringer

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the coronavirus pandemic was a noticeable uptick in drinking.

A nationwide survey by Rand Corp., released in September, found that American adults reported imbibing 14% more often in spring 2020 than the same period the previous year. Women respondents reported a whopping 41% increase in “days of heavy drinking” year-over-year.

Dr. Leslie Koblentz, chief clinical officer consultant for the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County, said many people turned to alcohol to cope with the stress and anxiety – and sometimes boredom – brought on by COVID, the ensuing lockdown and economic uncertainty. As a result, treatment organizations have seen an increasing demand for services.

“We had one provider who saw alcohol use intake increase from just 6% in 2019 to 36% in 2020,” Koblentz said, adding that while the pandemic appears to be winding down, America’s infatuation with drinking does not.

What’s the problem?

According to the National Institutes of Health, research has shown that alcohol misuse increases the risk of liver disease, cardiovascular diseases and stomach bleeding, as well as cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, colon and rectum. Just one drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer in women.

Then there’s the mental health impact. Alcohol is a depressant, noted Lisa Borchert, a clinical counselor and owner of Avenues of Counseling and Mediation, which has offices in Medina and Fairlawn. Sure two or three glasses of wine might make you feel “lighter” for the first 30 minutes or so, but eventually, she said, the alcohol will bring you down. That is especially troublesome for people who already suffer from depression or who are socially anxious.

Excessive drinking also interferes with sleep, making it more difficult to cope with everyday stressors, Borchert said. Research also suggests it contributes to cognitive decline in older adults. A 2019 Harvard study found that adults age 72 and older with mild cognitive impairment who drank more than 14 alcoholic drinks a week were 72% more likely to progress to dementia over an eight-year period than those who drank less than one drink a week.

Signs of misuse

Koblentz said three “red flags” signal the start of a drinking problem:

  • Need to use or craving of alcohol: If you wake up and think about drinking, for example.
  • Need to drink more: If you find it difficult to stop after one drink or need to drink more than you once did to get the effect you want.  
  • Need to keep drinking: If you find that when the effects of alcohol are wearing off, you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness or nausea.

Individuals experiencing any one of those symptoms, she said, “need to start asking for help.”

“Because the earlier you get help, the more likely you are to have a successful recovery.”

ADAMHS offers a 24-hour addiction hotline at 216-623-6888, for individuals living in Cuyahoga County. Those in Summit County can call the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board helpline at 330-940-1133. ∞