alcohol drinking and coronavirus

In the early days of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, it kind of took on a sense of one big vacation party. People were suddenly thrust into isolation with little time to prepare psychologically—or practically—for the adventure that could become a much more enduring situation than anyone had anticipated. At the outset, back in mid-March, there was a frenzied sense of gathering the basics before the stores ran out. But it wasn’t until it became clear that the lockdowns were going to last months, not days, that a spike in more alcohol drinking and coronavirus case counts became simpatico.

It isn’t hard to grasp why people in quarantine might gravitate toward the bottle. Tensions were high, as we sat glued to our sets watching the global map light up in deep shades of red and burgundy. The feeling of having no sense of control over something so scary and so huge naturally resulted in more alcohol drinking, and coronavirus fear escalated in kind.

Whether the boost in alcohol consumption started due to fear of the unknown, or just a good excuse to party, the end result of excessive drinking may be devastating. To one degree or another most of the nation has been stuck at home with little to keep themselves occupied outside of binge watching and beer. Newly established patterns of increased alcohol consumption during coronavirus may result in newly diagnosed alcohol use disorders at the other side of this.

Awareness is your friend, when looking for ways to set boundaries and avoid acquiring a drinking problem during the pandemic. Being cognizant of drinking behaviors, aware of what triggers them, and admitting if you are displaying the signs of an alcohol use disorder can make the difference between experiencing a short-lived uptick in alcohol use, or ending the quarantine with an alcohol addiction.

Problems Caused by Excessive Drinking During the Coronavirus

Whether it’s Zoom “quarantini” hours or sitting in the dark sipping whiskey, people who are stuck at home are engaging in higher levels of alcohol drinking, and coronavirus offers them a good excuse. With few other options on a Friday night, it’s easy to see why the living room becomes the new speak easy.

However, there is one reality that cannot be escaped, no matter how much of a buzz a person gets on, and that is that alcohol is extremely bad for us. The substance itself actually acts like a poison in our bloodstream, injuring our livers and causing myriad health issues. Mostly, though, the fact is that alcohol is extremely addictive, and alcohol addiction is a deadly progressive disease.

Some of the very real problems stemming from excessive drinking during the pandemic include:

  • Aggression, domestic violence
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Mood swings
  • Impulsive or high risk behaviors
  • Neglecting to complete work-at-home assignments
  • Decreases the body’s immune system and the ability to fight Covid-19

Why do People Turn to Alcohol?

Because of alcohols relaxing effects, it makes perfect sense that it would be an attractive panacea during times of stress. Alcohol use disorder often co-occurs with mental health disorders, especially depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. The quieting effects of alcohol can become a source of self-medicating the discomforts of a mental health issue.

But there are other reasons, some still not clearly understood, as to why some individuals gravitate toward alcohol abuse. Some of these factors include:

  • Genetics. Some individuals have a family history of addiction, indicating a genetic predisposition towards developing the problem.
  • Began using alcohol, drugs or nicotine at an early age
  • History of physical or sexual abuse, trauma exposure, or growing up in a home where family members engaged in substance abuse
  • Brain chemistry
  • Personality traits, such as gravitating toward high-risk behaviors, impulsivity, or having a mental health disorder

There are also new scientific discoveries that are beginning to shed more light on the role of specific genes in determining who will develop an alcohol problem. A study out of Sweden sheds light on how a certain group of rats gravitated toward alcohol instead of following the majority of rats towards the artificial sweetener, Saccharine. The study found that the rats that opted for the alcohol had a reduced expression of a particular gene, called GAT-3, which controls the neurotransmitter GABA and influenced the attraction to alcohol.

In humans, postmortem tissue of individuals who were alcoholic, it was discovered that they had less GAT-3 in the amygdala area that the brains of people who were not addicted to alcohol.

“This is one of the relatively rare cases where we find an interesting change in our animal models and the same change in the brains of people with alcohol addiction,” stated Dayne Mayfield, one of the researchers out of University of Texas that worked with the Swedish team.

What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) covers the diverse spectrum of alcohol abuse—from binge drinking in early years to excessive drinking that causes negative consequences in daily life to full-blown alcohol dependency. Compulsive drinking that results in alcoholism has significant negative consequences for the individual and their families.

For a diagnosis of AUD an individual must have any two of the eleven criteria present within a 12-month period. The number of the criteria met will determine the severity of the AUD. The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria include:

In the past year have you:

  1. Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  3. Spent a lot of time drinking, being sick, or getting over a hangover?
  4. Experienced cravings to drink?
  5. Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family?
  6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important to you in order to drink?
  8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your risk of injury?
  9. Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Have you had a memory blackout?
  10. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect your want, or found that your usual number of drinks had less effect than before?
  11. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating?

Answering yes to 2-3 of these items is considered a mild AUD, 4-5 is considered a moderate AUD, and 6 or more yes answers indicates a severe AUD.

Quarantine Increases Risk of Co-Occurring Alcoholism and Depression

Co-occurring substance use disorders with mood disorders are very common in normal times, but becoming more prevalent during the coronavirus crisis. Alcohol addiction when coupled with depression can be particularly challenging to treat.  According to data reported in the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, it is estimated that about 9.2 million of the 20 million adults who had a substance use disorder also had a major depressive episode.  Of that group, the most prevalent substance used was alcohol. Of that segment, only 7.7% of those with a dual diagnosis of major depression and alcohol use disorder received specialized dual diagnosis treatment.

It is crucial that someone battling both alcoholism and depression get the appropriate dual diagnosis treatment. Increased alcohol drinking and the coronavirus stressors have significantly ramped up the need for dual diagnosis interventions. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 30% of suicides, blood alcohol levels were above the legal limit and that 50% of those suicide deaths also involved major depression. Alcohol is, after all, a depressant, and will only compound the effects of a major depressive episode.

Getting Help for an Alcohol Use Disorder During the Pandemic

Residential treatment provides the most intensive approach to alcohol recovery treatment. During the pandemic, addiction treatment facilities were designated as essential services, allowing residential programs to continue to operate. Guidelines published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine provide safety precautions that are tailored to residential rehab facilities.

To maintain safe treatment facilities, rehabs have adopted these precautions:

  • Screening (or testing) for COVID-19
  • Do thorough cleaning and sterilization procedures multiple times per day
  • Isolate clients who may later show symptoms of COVID-19
  • Limit or prohibit visitors and have them use PPE
  • Provide PPE for staff

With these measures in place, residential rehabs are able to continue providing essential services to individuals in need of timely treatment for an alcohol use disorder.

Fortunately, online A.A. meetings, free for those who utilize them, are available now using Zoom Internet technology. Now, those in recovery who desire to connect with a recovery community can do that without even getting into a car. While online A.A. meetings are not new, during the pandemic the Zoom platform is making them available far and wide, along with other recovery groups like SMART Recovery.

Elevation Behavioral Health Leading Provider of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Elevation Behavioral Health provides comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment for individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder and a co-occurring substance use disorder. Our luxury accommodations and stunning setting help to provide comfort and healing while engaging in the comprehensive treatment program. Our campus has been completely configured for safe distancing and cleanliness through the pandemic. Client safety is our top priority. For more information about the program, please contact Elevation Behavioral Health today at (888) 561-0868.

mental health during covid 19

As Americans settle into very lengthy stay at home policies enacted across the nation, many might begin to experience some mental health concerns. After all, we are not built to go through weeks or months without our daily freedoms. Losing those personal freedoms for the sake of national health is something we have had to get accustomed to, whether we are comfortable with the edicts or not. It is the way it is, and the best thing we can do to protect our mental health during the COVID-19 crisis is to come to a state of acceptance.

In fact, the way people have responded psychologically to this event has been lined up alongside Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s infamous work, The 5 Stages of Grief. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Collectively, many of us are now experiencing the depression phase as shelter orders have lost their luster. While the measures are in place for good reason, to prevent loss of life, many are now coming to the realization that the coronavirus has caused significant unwelcome changes in daily life.

So how do we go about protecting our mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic? What steps can we take to shore up our resolves and get through this event psychologically intact? While there is no magic wand to make all of this go away, there are some protective steps to take that will help us maintain our sanity for the meantime.

10 Steps to Protect Mental Health During COVID-19

It is true that our emotions have been all over the map since this began back in early March. One day we are calm and reflective, and the next day we feel agitated and irritable. These fluctuating emotions are to be expected as we wade into uncharted waters, not know what each day will bring. To help offset some of the anxiety and feelings of depression that might be taking root, consider these 10 tips:

  1. Practice gratitude. You wouldn’t think that there would be anything to be grateful about when every normal daily activity has been removed from your milieu. It is surprising to discover that there are plentiful things to be grateful for, especially when you realize you are still healthy and safe. Count your blessings for having a loving family, a cute pet, a roof over your head, and hope for the future. Each day, try to list 3 things for which you are grateful.
  2. Turn off the news. News overload can have negative effects on our mental health. Mainstream news outlets are enjoying their surging popularity and may enhance the dramatic in order to keep viewers engaged. This can lead to feelings of anxiety or distress for individuals who are sensitive or have experienced a past trauma. While it is fine to grab the headlines once or twice during the day, instead of keeping the news on all day long turn the TV off and enjoy some old reruns on Netflix for balance.
  3. Enjoy a simpler lifestyle. Now that we are slowly adjusting to living a very small life, we are beginning to notice some benefits of a simpler lifestyle. Instead of rushing around, racing between this or that appointment, lesson, sports practice, or a long list of errands, we are slowing down and actually smelling the roses. There is something to be said for a quieter, more leisurely pace of life.
  4. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us redirect distracting and negative thoughts that keep us feeling off-balance, drawing the mind back to the present moment. Train yourself to focus attention away from anxiety-provoking and fear-based thoughts that rob you from the pleasures of that moment in time. Be in that cozy moment, focus on the aroma of the coffee, enjoy drifting off to a different world through the book you are holding, and feel safe and secure inside that soft, snuggly blanket.
  5. Enjoy the sunshine. Health professionals are reminding us how important it is to have a strong immune system during the COVID-19 crisis. One of the best actions to take that will improve immunity and boost mood is getting plenty of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a byproduct of sun exposure. So, grab any opportunity you can to enjoy some time outside on a sunny day. Fresh air and sunshine are essential to our health and wellbeing, and you will also enjoy a noticeable change in your attitude for the better. If sunshine is scarce in your region, be sure to supplement the diet with some vitamin D3.
  6. Revisit your passions. With our usual busy lives, how many times have you looked at your bookcase and lamented having no time to read? With plentiful free time available now, grab the moment and indulge in the things you never had time for before. Read some books, make some artwork, explore new musical artists, or write a novel. We may never have the luxury of time again like we do right now to rediscover old passions or to discover brand new ones.
  7. Stay social. Social distancing has shown us a powerful truth—people need people. We all have varying degrees of sociability, with some of us wired toward being introverts and others as more extroverted. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, enjoying both social time and time for introspection. To nourish our need for social connection during COVID-19, which will have positive effects on our mental health, make the effort to reach out to friends and family members. With so many ways to connect with people, don’t be shy. Just check in, say hello, and ask how your friend is doing. We actually need human connection for our mental health during COVID-19.
  8. Stay physically active. For those who are free to get outdoors, take a couple of hearty walks, a bike ride, or a run every day. This will expose you to vitamin D through sunshine, which can help improve mood, as well as provide the many mental health benefits from regular exercise. If movement is tightly restricted, indoor exercise activities can be achieved through yoga or workout routines posted on YouTube. The videos offer a variety of toning, stretching, and movements that can keep you in shape during the lockdown.
  9. Keep a journal. Whether it is a leather-bound journal, a spiral notebook, or a Word document on the computer, recognize that we are living through an historic event and it would be very interesting to look back someday on the coronavirus pandemic from your own perspective. Jotting down thoughts and feelings is also therapeutic, as writing allows you to offload feelings of unrest, sadness, fear, or stress onto a piece of paper. This practice somehow releases the effects of these emotions on your psychological health.
  10. Stay flexible. With the coronavirus crisis, no one really knows how it will unfold over time. This virus is novel, meaning it has never existed before. As we all cycle through the cascading events together, it is good to remain as nimble and flexible mentally as possible. Try to avoid having firm expectations about how long we will have to remain at home or how the virus affects people. Collectively we will do better psychologically if we roll with events as they unfold, rather than having rigid expectations.

Signs of Deteriorating Mental Wellness

It is difficult to predict who among us will be able to manage our mental health during COVID-19 and who will struggle. Many factors play into the way we will respond to the stress and uncertainty, both in terms of the health scare and the financial fallout. We all are going to struggle from time to time as we experience the impact of the virus on our lives. However, when mental health begins to seriously deteriorate it is critical to get the professional help you need.

Be aware of the following warning signs of a serious mental health issue:

  • Sudden changes in eating habits leading to unintended weight gain or weight loss
  • Changes in sleep patterns, disrupted sleep, nightmares, or insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness and despair
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Heart palpitations, racing heart rate
  • Increase in somatic symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, diarrhea
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Loss of interest
  • Isolating behaviors
  • Angry, violent behavior
  • Experiencing delusional thoughts or hallucinations
  • Suicidal ideation, obsessed with death

Most mental health providers are offering tele-mental health video services during COVID-19. If you or a loved one is experiencing the signs of deteriorating mental health during the pandemic, reach out to a mental health provider for immediate support.

Getting Mental Health Treatment During COVID-19

Mental health treatment is still readily available during this event. Many outpatient mental health programs are now providing psychotherapy and group therapy via Zoom platforms, where a licensed mental health provider will be able to offer therapy and support. There are outpatient intensive outpatient programs that are designed to be administered through video conferencing platforms.

Residential mental health providers are still operating during the COVID-19 event. These facilities have adopted all of the CDC safety guidelines to provide a clean, sterilized therapeutic environment.

Elevation Behavioral Health Offers Residential Mental Health During COVID-19

Elevation Behavioral Health is a luxury residential mental health center in Los Angeles. Elevation Behavioral Health has made the safety of our residents and staff the top priority, and have adhered to all the CDC safety recommendations including personal protective equipment, thorough cleaning and disinfecting of our facility, screening protocols for the virus, and practicing social distancing the best we can. If you or a loved one is in need of more intensive, customized mental health treatment, please contact our team today at (888) 561-0868.

ocd and coronavirus

For people who struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) the coronavirus is the perfect storm. While many Americans are striving to practice better hand-washing technique and are judiciously wiping down potential virus contamination everywhere, individuals with OCD may be particularly distressed at this time.

OCD and coronavirus are an unfortunate pairing, for sure. Those who struggle with germ obsessions anyway may experience heightened levels of anxiety and distress, scrubbing and scrubbing their hands, or avoiding public places altogether. People with OCD already battle an obsessive fear of germs, so this coronavirus outbreak may cause serious mental health issues for them.

There is no arguing that Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is a serious health concern. It is impossible to avoid the continuous news coverage or mounting infection statistics that permeate the airwaves. But OCD and coronavirus must coexist, at least for the meanwhile. This means that people with OCD will need to adopt some coping skills to help them through this disturbing time in history.

5 Tips for OCD and Coronavirus Anxiety

With some focused effort it is possible to minimize the emotional distress caused by the pandemic. Individuals with OCD tend to obsess about avoiding potential dangers, including germs that could harm them. Even seeing the empty shelves at the grocery stores, including the last of hand sanitizing soaps and wipes, can induce fear. These intrusive obsessive thoughts lead to irrational compulsions as a way of mitigating the anxiety that results. To help minimize the effect of the virus on daily life, consider these 5 tips:

  1. Limit the news. When something causes us fear, such as during a natural disaster or a military attack, we may find ourselves glued to the news all day long. Learning about the event can sometimes help us manage fear, as knowledge can better prepare us for outcomes. However, with the news media providing round-the-clock coronavirus programming it can keep us in a constant state of anxiety as the case counts mount. According to Shelly Hovick, Ph.D. who authored a study centering on the Zika outbreak in 2016, and who is weighing in now about the coronavirus, “The Zika virus and the coronavirus have important things in common: In both cases, they are shrouded in uncertainty and have received a lot of media attention,” Hovick said. “Our research looks at how people seek and process information when there is so much uncertainty.”
  2. Keep perspective. While the coronavirus pandemic is a historic event like something we have never seen in our lifetimes, it is important to try to maintain a healthy perspective. The mounting case and death numbers are disturbing, but it is helpful to remember that there are 7.7 billion people in the world as a way to keep some perspective when considering those numbers. Also, take care not to look too far into the future, as no one really knows how long it will take for the virus to play out. Focus on getting through one day at a time.
  3. Take rational precautions. Someone with OCD will often go to great lengths to prevent a perceived negative outcome. This is the nature of the disorder, to experience the combination of obsessive thoughts rooted in fear and then to practice obsessive behaviors as a means of reducing the resulting anxiety or risk of the feared event or situation to come to fruition. For someone with a germ-centered obsession the coronavirus is especially daunting. Practice prescribed safety measures without falling into extreme obsessive behaviors. Identify irrational thoughts as anxiety driven while sticking to practical methods for avoiding the pathogen.
  4. Practice wellness. One of the most productive actions to take during the coronavirus is to practice a healthy lifestyle. Although this is more challenging during sheltering orders, we are still able to get outdoors and get some exercise. Walking, running, or cycling offer excellent mental health benefits for reducing stress and anxiety and improving overall outlook. Try to avoid the temptation to eat fatty or sugary foods, and limit or avoid alcohol intake. Get at least 7 hours of quality sleep per night. All of these wellness measures will help to control symptoms of depression or anxiety during the pandemic.
  5. Access your support system. When, in spite of all these efforts, you find yourself becoming increasingly anxious, it is prudent to contact the people in your support system. This can be a trusted friend, a family member, or your therapist. Most psychotherapists and psychiatrists are making themselves available via tele-mental health platforms like Zoom or Skype, or telephone therapy sessions. Do not hesitate to reach out to your mental health provider if symptoms escalate.

About OCD

OCD is an anxiety-related disorder that features alternating obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors repeated throughout the day. OCD can become so disruptive that it can impair one’s ability to function at school, work, or to maintain healthy personal relationships. OCD affects approximately 1.2% of the US adult population, according to statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, and impacts more women than men.

OCD can become so invasive that all aspects of the person’s life are affected. Some who struggle with OCD may isolate themselves in order to avoid triggers that would expose the disorder in public. This particular trait is even more predominant now during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and state after state are imposing lockdowns.

It isn’t fully understood what causes OCD, however research suggests that there is a connection problem between neural pathways involving the frontal lobe and deeper brain structures. Some progress has been made in understanding OCD through neuroimaging studies. These detailed brain scans reveal how certain areas of the brain are functioning differently in those who have OCD, compared to those without the disorder. As such, it is understood that OCD is primarily a neurobiological disorder that may be influenced by environmental factors.

In addition, there is some evidence that OCD has a genetic component, as the mental health disorder, as do other anxiety disorders, does seem to run in families.

How OCD Manifests

Some of the different ways OCD may manifest itself in daily life include:

  • Contamination obsessions with cleaning compulsions. Obsessions around contamination and germs can lead to compulsions of repeated hand washing or cleaning behaviors.
  • Harm obsessions with checking compulsions. Driven by intense fear of danger or potential harm to oneself or others, this individual will use compulsive checking rituals to relieve this fear.
  • Symmetry obsessions with ordering compulsions. The obsessive desire for order and symmetry drive compulsive behaviors that include ordering, arranging, and counting.
  • Obsessions that have no visible compulsions. These might involve distorted and irrational thoughts involving sexual, violent, or religious themes or fears. Compulsive mental rituals, such as reciting words, prayer, or counting, are not visible to others.
  • Hoarding. Obsessive fear around losing important papers or items drives the hoarding of mail, magazines, containers, clothing, and junk mail.

The most common types of obsessions revolve around:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Fear of some dangerous event, such as setting the house on fire or being burglarized
  • Forbidden sexual thoughts, including perversions, homosexual thoughts, thoughts involving children, or aggressive sexual behaviors
  • Perfectionism, concerning symmetry or exact placement

The most common types of compulsions include:

  • Washing hands, cleaning, preventing physical contact
  • Checking, such as repeatedly checking that the lights are turned off or the oven is off.
  • Repeating routine actions, like going in and out of a door, tapping, touching, blinking, rereading.
  • Placing items in a specific order or arrangement

Living with OCD and Coronavirus

The last thing anyone should do is to allow this coronavirus to cause people to live in perpetual fear. OCD is characterized by a fear of lack of control over something that is regarded as dangerous, making having the disorder especially concerning during the pandemic. Many individuals with OCD have acquired helpful coping skills through a type of therapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP). These techniques will be very helpful during this particular time in history.

It is easy to fall into fear mode, especially when watching news reports. Be proactive and obtain help from a therapist or mental health professional who can help manage the OCD flair-ups. OCD is a manageable disorder, even when the coronavirus crisis further complicates symptoms.

Treatment for OCD

The traditional treatment for OCD strategies involves a combination approach including medication and psychotherapy. The medications most effective for treating OCD include the antidepressants fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, and sertraline. In some cases, an anti-psychotic medication called risperidone can be effective when the antidepressants are not, or might be combined with an antidepressant for better results.

Psychotherapy will focus on behavior changing therapies to assist individuals with responding to the obsessive thoughts in a more productive manner. Some of these evidence-based therapies include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy involves training the mind to focus on the actual experience caused by the negative thought and to respond to it in new ways. By helping the individual change the way his or her thoughts are interpreted from negative to neutral, cognitive behavior therapy can alter the disordered behavioral response to them.
  • Habit reversal training. Individuals become aware of the physiological muscle or body sensation that is associated with it by practicing compulsive habit in the mirror, which helps develop awareness for how the urge manifests. The patient then learns a competing intervention that blocks and reverses the disordered compulsive habit.
  • Exposure and response prevention (ERP). ERP can help relieve fear-based symptoms by incrementally exposing the individual to their fears. As the object of fear is introduced, the individual is taught coping skills that help reduce the related anxiety attached to this trigger. As the individual becomes comfortable with ERP, the therapy can help them better manage their response to the triggers when they occur.

Elevation Behavioral Health Provides Support for OCD and Coronavirus Anxiety

Elevation Behavioral Health provides residential mental health support in Los Angeles, California. Offering luxury accommodations in a beautiful setting, Elevation Behavioral Health can help individuals struggling with OCD and coronavirus by improving functioning and increasing peace of mind. Call us today at (888) 561-0868.