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.

holiday stress

We might enter the holiday season feeling wistful. We remember beautiful memories of holidays past, and have lots of ideas to make this year an amazing season. No matter how sincere our intentions are to be festive and jolly at Christmastime, it somehow doesn’t usually go that way. Partway through December the wheels come off as the To-Do list explodes and the calendar gets tighter and tighter.

All the efforts we make to participate in the seasonal fun can often turn south on us. We become overwhelmed as stress ratchets up, threatening to spoil the mood of the holidays. Stress and anxiety can become so intensified during this busy season that we might even find ourselves sidelined completely. Learning how to manage holiday stress is essential if we are to not only survive the holiday madness but also enjoy ourselves a bit, too.

Why the Holidays Stress Us Out

When we are little kids the Christmas season was all about waiting for Santa to bring us presents. Once we hit adulthood and have a family of our own, it comes as a bit of a shock how much work our parents must have done to make those holiday festivities so special. The season is rife with demands to shop and wrap gifts, plan holiday parties, decorate the house, and attend holiday events. It is exhausting.

When we feel overwhelmed, as if there are not enough hours in the day or enough energy in our bodies to keep up with the long list of holiday errands and demands it can lead to anxiety. Stores are more crowded, distracted drivers pose dangers on the road, and the closer Christmas looms the edgier people seem to be. Anxiety symptoms run amok as we begin to feel a loss of control over our lives and incapable of keeping up with expectations. Part of the dilemma is that we place excessive expectations on ourselves, attempting to manage all the spinning plates.

About Anxiety Disorder

We all feel stressed out from time to time, the normal response to situations that can push us out of our comfort zones or cause emotional distress. But when the symptoms of irrational worry and dread take over, even impairing daily functioning, it is time to discuss the symptoms with a mental health professional. Undiagnosed anxiety disorder can become more serious as time goes on, threatening to derail careers, relationships, and even cause health problems. With an array of treatment options available, there is certain to be one that fits the individual’s needs.

Anxiety disorder is the umbrella term for a collection of mental health disorders that share core symptoms:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Feelings of dread and apprehension
  • Being perpetually on alert for danger
  • Racing heart or palpitations
  • Shaking
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Hyperventilating
  • Shortness of breath, holding one’s breath
  • Stomach upset, diarrhea
  • Feeling jumpy or restless
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Trouble concentrating, mental confusion, short-term memory problems
  • Headaches

The predominant trait of all anxiety disorders is a sense of having no control over the fear-inducing situation.

Different Types of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety can manifest in different ways. Any of the anxiety disorders can cause symptoms that can impair the ability to function in daily tasks. The types of anxiety that are included in the anxiety disorder spectrum include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD features intense and inappropriate worry for the situation at hand. The exaggerated and chronic worrying can result in impairment at basic daily functioning, as well as somatic symptoms, or chronic physical ailments, such as headaches, digestive problems, and muscle tension.
  • Panic Disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by unpredictable and intense physical symptoms that resemble a heart attack, such as chest pain, racing heart, nausea, shallow breathing, dizziness, and heart palpitations. Because the attacks come on suddenly without warning, people begin to isolate themselves to avoid a panic attack, which could result in agoraphobia.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety related to an irrational fear. In response to the fear, individuals adopt compulsive behaviors to help manage the anxiety that the irrational obsession induces. Examples are fear of contamination or germs, fear of angry, aggressive, or sexual impulses, or an obsessive need for orderliness, cleanliness, or symmetry.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is related to the intense feelings of anxiety that follow experiencing or witnessing a trauma. An unresolved traumatic event, whether witness or experienced personally, leads to nightmares, hyper-arousal, and unwanted memories, which can lead to avoidance of any situations or people that might trigger the traumatic memories.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder. Social anxiety is caused by a deep fear of being judged or harshly criticized, or publically humiliated. Social anxiety is characterized by sweating, trembling, shallow breathing, nausea, feeling faint or dizzy, and heart palpitations, which may lead the individual to avoid all types of social interaction and events. This can lead to social isolation and loneliness, as well as negatively consequences to career and relationships.
  • Phobia. Specific phobias pertain to the intense and exaggerated fear of a person, place, or thing. The object of fear can lead to irrational and obsessive behaviors as the individual attempts to avoid encountering or triggering the extreme fear that it provokes, leading to avoiding any potential exposure to the specific phobia.
  • Agoraphobia. Agoraphobia involves intense fear that is triggered when the individual feels they are trapped, helpless, or may be publicly embarrassed, while on a train, bus, plane, in an elevator, or on a ship. This type of anxiety disorder may result after a series of panic attacks, and can lead to social isolation.

How to Cope with Holiday Stress and Enjoy the Season

We can still relish the joy of reuniting with friends and family over the holidays by relying on some helpful tips for dealing with holiday stress:

  1. Simplify the season. We tend to want to do it all, and then find ourselves struggling with stress overload trying to accomplish all the self-imposed goals. Whittle down the expectations to a few core things that make the season meaningful instead of trying to cram everything in.
  2. Remember the meaning of the season. It is nice to take note of the spiritual meaning of the holiday season and focus on that when stress threatens to overwhelm you. Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas for inspiration.
  3. Exercise. Keeping active during the holidays is a great way to manage the stress of the season. Exercise increases production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, both of which can help regulate stress.
  4. Limit sugar and caffeine. As tempting as it is to overindulge in sugary treats and rich coffee beverages during the festive season it is wise to limit these. Sugar and caffeine can cause heightened energy, which can make you jumpy, irritable, and restless.
  5. Change up the traditions. Even though we love holiday traditions, no one has to abide by a set script during the holidays. To help stave off excess stress, try changing things up this year. Maybe this year you pass on hosting the usual holiday party and pass the torch to someone else.
  6. Practice self-care. The demands of the season can exact a toll on wellness. Get enough quality sleep on a regular basis to be up for the challenges of the holidays. When stress ratchets up, go get a nice massage or taking a hot bath.

The Holidays Can Stroke Depression, Too

Even with all the holiday music and merriment, the season can cause some to become very depressed. Those who have suffered a recent loss in the family may be emotionally raw, and the season only reminds them that their loved one is no longer here. Others may suffer from feelings of loneliness and despair, as the season can make it appear that everyone has a loving posse surrounding them.

Depression symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent sadness
  • Slowed thinking and movement
  • Changes in eating habits and weight
  • Sleep problems such as insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Feelings of shame or guilt that are inappropriate
  • Trouble making decisions or concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you are experiencing 5 or more of these symptoms for at least two weeks, it is possible you have major depressive disorder. It is important to be assessed by a mental health professional who can provide medication and therapy to help you stabilize.

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

When holiday stress generates ongoing anxiety symptoms it is helpful to benefit from psychological support. Generally, anxiety is treated using evidence-based therapies that target dysfunctional thought-behavior patterns. Psychotherapy can help us identify disordered thoughts that lead to excess stress, and learn how to reshape those thoughts. Examples of evidence-based approaches include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines or antidepressants, can also aid in the management of anxiety symptoms. Medications are usually provided as adjunctive to psychotherapy and holistic therapies, and are not always necessary for managing anxiety.

Holistic therapies are ancient practices that can help relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety naturally. Using holistic methods to help achieve a state of relaxation can augment the overall therapeutic effects, and can be incorporated into daily life. Some examples of holistic therapies include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Guided meditation

Taking control of your life again is possible through the use of a multi-modal anxiety management protocol. When signs of crippling anxiety threaten to derail your holiday season, reach out and get some psychological support.

Elevation Behavioral Health Offers Upscale Residential Mental Health Treatment

Elevation Behavioral Health offers evidence-based mental health treatment in a luxury residential setting in Los Angeles. At Elevation Behavioral Health you can focus your energy and attention on learning new ways to manage anxiety. For more information about our program, please contact Elevation today at (888) 561-0868.