A Hidden Cost of COVID-19      

We know that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our economy, our families and our social structure. Many of us even know what it’s done to our stress level. But a really frightening aspect of this pandemic is one that we can’t see too clearly right now, and that’s the rise of substance abuse disorder.

Leigh Moerdyke, LMSW, CPS-M from Arbor Circle, provides some insights about the impact that this stressful time can have on addictive behavior.

Have alcohol sales really climbed during COVID-19?

Yes, they have. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission reports that in Michigan, sales of alcoholic beverages surged 13.5 percent during the pandemic. According to a Nielsen report from June 2020, alcohol sales increased 55 percent the week of March 21, 2020 compared to the same time the year prior. That doesn’t include any restaurant or bar sales…it’s just the personal consumption number.

Should we be concerned about that increase?

For some people, a slight increase in drinking during this time may not be a problem. However, there are two things that we should all keep in mind. The first one is this: what are we modeling to the children in our lives? We all know kids pay far more attention to behavior than words. If our coping mechanism as adults is to reach for a drink, our kids will assume that this is the appropriate response. That’s not the lesson we want them to take away for the future. The second thing to keep in mind is why we’re choosing to drink. Is it because we can’t get through the day without it? If so, that’s also a concern. The alcohol has become a crutch, or a self-medication choice, that can create a lifetime of problems.

How do I know if my substance use choices are heading down an unhealthy path?

Each person is different. For someone who is predisposed to addiction, a slight increase or one night of experimentation with a harder substance might be all it takes. For others, however, there are some additional things to consider. For example, are you trying to hide your behavior? If so, that should be a warning sign to you. Healthy alcohol use does not have to be hidden. Another caution is to ask, “Can I live without this?” If, for example, you can’t sleep without a few drinks or a sleeping pill, then you may be developing a physical or psychological dependence. From another perspective, behavior can provide a clue. If you wake up the next morning and regret behavior that involved substance use, that’s a big red flag. And a final warning sign is volume. If you started with one drink, and now you’re up to 2-3 or more, or you need to start earlier in the day, those are all indications that it’s time to seek help before things get out of control.

What should I do if I think I might need some help?

Substance abuse and mental health often go hand in hand. When we use drugs or alcohol to find a way out of the emotional discomfort, we’re not solving anything. The easiest and best way to prevent far greater problems later is to deal with the emotional issues now. And you know what? If you’re feeling stressed and upset, you’re not alone. NOCHS Vice President of Medical Affairs and COO, Dr. Haney Assaad, estimates that in a normal year, 20 percent of the patients in his former practice would exhibit stress symptoms. And this is not a normal year by any stretch of the imagination. He has said those numbers are probably three times higher now during the COVID pandemic. It’s not unrealistic to extrapolate that number out to the general population and estimate that 60 percent of adults are experiencing chronic stress.

If you think it might be time to seek some help, contact your primary care provider, Community Mental Health, Mosaic Counseling, Arbor Circle, or one of many other local resources.

You can also call 211 to be connected to local organizations for mental health and substance abuse.

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