Q: I am still drinking a lot. It all started during 2020. How can I stop drinking?
A: Recognize that there is a problem. Get social, get help, and find what works for you.
TL; DR. You aren’t alone. Alcohol related deaths are up and so are drinking rates. To get help, start with recognizing the problem. Then seek support from friends, family, and clinicians.
A recent study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) found that in 2020, alcohol related deaths increased by nearly 25%. Alcohol use has increased across all age groups, but especially among women. In the U.S., this is a big problem.
So where does one begin to cut down on drinking?
The first step is recognizing that you may have a drinking problem.
1) Seek social connections.
2) Prioritize healthy coping mechanisms.
3) Increase support and seek additional help as needed.
Some of the reasons that are thought to contribute to increased alcohol use are: more stressors, less separation between work and home, increased demands at home, fewer coping options during the pandemic, and leftover habits (which have become harmful) from the start of the pandemic. Alcohol is also easier to access than a lot of other substances and was often used for relaxation or winding down at the end of the night during the pandemic.
What if I want to cut back on my drinking?
Ask yourself how alcohol helps you or hurts you in your life. For a lot of us, it helps us connect with others, deal with difficult feelings (hurt, anger, depression, anxiety) and/or manage stress. But it may also hurt you. Does it make you isolate? Does it cause problems in your relationships, work, or family?
There can be healthier alternatives to using alcohol, which may include the following:
1) Connect with people. Lots of times drinking happens in order to connect with others (drinking games, even via zoom). Engage with friends/peers/colleagues/family in safer ways like getting together to eat, going for a walk, having non-alcoholic drinks, or having a game night (or maybe you have another idea!).
2) Find healthy coping mechanisms. For sleep, follow good sleep hygiene – believe it or not alcohol actually disrupts sleep throughout the night. It can also increase anxiety and depression. And it is even thought to decrease immunity with prolonged use. For stress relief, you may try aerobic activity (running, swimming, walking), deep breathing or meditating. You may also modify your environment by removing alcohol from the home, refusing alcohol in social situations, and even taking breaks from social media/the internet.
3) Seek additional help if you need it. For a lot of us, we are experiencing more anxiety and depression, so it is important to reach out to your network but also your primary care or mental health clinician for extra support. They can help you connect to treatment for alcohol or substance use. They can also offer you treatments to help like medications or other supports as well as coordinate with other services you may be getting. For people who had issues with alcohol or substance use before the pandemic, you may be at higher risk of relapse. Remembering what worked to support you before (like support groups, faith groups, or other social events) can be critical. If you do feel you have a problem with your drinking (feel like your drinking is out of control), there is no shame in getting help. While lots of services are run online, many are starting to meet back in person.
How do I know if I have a problem with drinking?
Ask yourself these questions.
-Are you drinking more than 7 drinks a week for women or 14 drinks a week for men? (Check out standard drinks here to understand what a drink is.)
-Are you often preoccupied with drinking?
-Have you had times when you drank more than you desired?
-Have you had a hard time cutting down on drinking?
-Has drinking interfered with your work, home, or social life?
-Has the number of drinks you are having increased?
If you are answering yes to any of these questions, your drinking may be a problem. There are lots of resources to help.
-Call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service, available at 1-800-662-HELP. Connect with a counselor who can help you find treatment near you and discuss your alcohol use with you.
-Use the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) alcohol treatment navigator to help you find therapists, providers, and programs.
-Call the Partnership to End Addiction. You can text or call (services also in Spanish). Responses are given within 24 hours.
-Check out resources from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). While we acknowledge that there are multiple ways to help with your drinking, AA has a large network in the U.S. and internationally.
How do I tell people that this is serious?
This is a tough one. During the pandemic, many people increased their drinking. Some may not take this issues seriously. Use your own words to tell people what is going on. Explain with facts why you are seeking help for your drinking. Let them know what your boundaries are and what/what not you want to do when you meet with them socially. Most people will want to help and know how to support. And if they don’t it is important that you have a clear understanding of how and if you can maintain that relationship.
There are many challenges, but help is available. We hope that for those struggling, you do get the help you need to support your mental and physical wellness.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls
Please note: If you need additional resources, Mental Health America (MHA) offers a great way to search for resources. And if you are in need of immediate assistance, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 OR 1-800-273-8255 (Español: 1-888-628-9454; Hearing Support: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Photo Credit: NIAA
We need to talk about Pandemic Drinking
Effect of increased alcohol consumption during COVID-19