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Shaken, Not Stirred: COVID-19 Sparks Uptick In Alcohol Consumption

Updated on May 13, 2020
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

Quarantinis, Anyone?


Is It Five O'Clock Somewhere Yet?

Apparently, the lack of a regular schedule and boredom during the COVID-19 pandemic has gotten people hitting their liquor cabinets on a more regular basis than they have done before.

Don't get me wrong; there are many who enjoy a nice glass of wine or a cold beverage at the end of a tough day, and in moderation, that's not a bad thing. You shouldn't be chugging the stuff, but having the occasional drink to unwind or to be social is not necessarily a bad thing, unless you have a pre-existing addiction to alcohol. However, it should come as no surprise to anyone that COVID-19 is driving more people to the liquor stores to restock their supplies.

Many individuals, regardless of professional field, are currently without a regular schedule of events and life right now is playing out like an interminable bad vacation. While we have been encouraged to get regular exercise and, if outside, maintain social distancing protocols, we have little purpose in rising in the morning beyond needing to go pee and needing to eat. A survey conducted by Nanos for the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, which accumulated data from 1,036 Canadians over the course of three days from March 30 until April 2, 2020, found that 25 percent of Canadians between the ages of 35 and 54 who were surveyed are actually drinking more as the result of boredom, stress or the lack of a regular schedule from the pandemic.

While the sample size is fairly small, one really need only look at the lineups outside the Beer Store and the LCBO - in Ontario, anyways - to get a clear picture about just how frequently people are lining up for alcohol. Granted, part of the reason for the lineups is that access is being controlled to these stores so there aren't more people than is absolutely necessary, but by the same token, it is a steady lineup from about 10 a.m. onward.

People are also feeling more stress now than ever before. Small businesses are fighting to stay afloat, even with varying degrees of government assistance, employees are wondering if they will have a job to return to, and parents are feeling the stress of having to be both educator and entertainer for their little ones. It's a heck of a lot to ask of anyone, this self-isolation stuff, but because most of us are generally rule followers by nature, we tend to stick with what we've been told to do.

However, we are a social species, even those of us who like spending time alone, so we are searching for ways to cope. Unfortunately for some, the Zoom or Google Meet wine dates that you have every so often mean more than one drink might be consumed, and sometimes - not always, but sometimes - you run out of your supply of alcohol unintentionally.

Further to that, while we think alcohol might give us an opportunity to relax, it ultimately can amplify mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression and it does disrupt sleep in the long run. As such, that means that any issues that we are having as a result of being quarantined and maintaining our social distance from one another can actually be worsened.

According to the survey, 18 percent of those surveyed indicated that their drinking had increased since the start of the lockdown, with 70 percent stating that their drinking levels had unchanged. Survey respondents were allowed to select any options that they felt applied as to why their drinking had increased. Over half of those who said their drinking levels had actually increased stated that their drinking had increased because of the lack of a regular schedule, while 49 percent said it was because of boredom and 44 percent said it was because of stress. The last reason is perhaps unsurprising due to the new financial burdens posed by the lockdown.

Famed social worker Brené Brown stated in her TED Talk that we are part of a society that numbs itself more than any other in recent years. We eat more, we have sex more, we self-medicate more and yes, we drink more. We are disconnected from society in many cases right now and disconnected from those we hold most dearly. That can cause a great deal of pain, especially when our schedules are completely turned upside down right now. While certainly no one would endorse turning to alcohol as a way of coping with unhappiness, it's definitely a coping mechanism which so many have turned to previously.

Does it come as any real surprise, then, that people are turning to alcohol in a time of social and physical distancing?


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