People are drinking more during COVID-19. Here's some advice on how to cut down

©Chicago Tribune

From March to June, the COVID Symptom Study found 20 percent of their almost 100,000 participants reported increased drinking since the pandemic began. - Dreamstime/Dreamstime/TNS

CHICAGO — The pandemic has everyone stuck at home, where alcohol and snacks are within easy reach. So if you find that you’re drinking more, you’re not alone. From March to June, the COVID Symptom Study found 20% of their almost 100,000 participants reported increased drinking since the pandemic began. During the week of March 21 alone, U.S alcohol sales rose 55 percent, according to the market research firm Nielsen.

Dr. Subhash C. Pandey, a professor and the director of the Alcohol Research Center at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said it’s understandable that people are turning to alcohol right now as we’re all going through a traumatic event. “It has been very well established that (traumatic events) promote alcohol abuse. And it’s established that people drink to relax or to self-medicate,” said Pandey.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. For people who usually drink moderately, but have noticed an uptick in how much they’re consuming, cutting out alcohol for a month may be helpful.

For Matt Wilson, a Chicago born software engineer, cutting out drinking for one month about five years ago offered noticeable results. Now he’s recommending others take on a No Alcohol August to better their health.

“I actually lost 12 pounds,” said Wilson, who decided to reduce his drinking to meet his fitness goals.

He said many of his friends gave excuses and said they could never give up alcohol for a whole month. But Wilson said people should think about the reason why they’re afraid to give up drinking. “We all know the pains of hangovers and brain fog. People should go into it knowing this is a positive thing, a way to make a positive change in their lives,” said Wilson.

Besides a no drinking challenge, people can also focus on reducing stress and sadness in their lives. Pandey said social events can help decrease stress and loneliness that may cause people to drink. If someone lives alone, there’s no outside influence to stop them from unhealthy drinking habits. Activities like choosing a month without alcohol or attending online events with friends may reduce stress and anxiety in people’s lives.

But cutting out alcohol cold turkey isn’t for everyone. For those who might have a drinking problem, withdrawal symptoms can present a struggle, Pandey said, and can also cause people to continue drinking. For anyone who struggles to reduce or completely quit drinking, he recommends talking to an expert in alcohol addiction through telehealth.

“I think it’s very unprecedented times we’re going through. But I think the medical field, particularly with virtual health, is really one of the very emerging tools that can specifically help an individual see a specialist, get advice and get proper treatment,” said Pandey.

———

©2020 Chicago Tribune