By Damon Raskin, M.D. | Special to the Palisadian-Post
Q:Alright, I admit it: I’ve been drinking more since the pandemic started. Are there any long-term effects that can stem from having a drink or two a few times a week, which has increased from having a glass of wine once every week or two?
“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
This quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Great Gatsby” is a warning of what could happen if you let your alcohol consumption get out of control. With the stress and isolation of the pandemic, I have seen more of my patients complain of depression and anxiety, and that has often led to an increase in drinking or other drug use.
Alcohol consumption tends to increase in times of crisis, and this coronavirus pandemic has added stress factors, including possible job loss, furloughs, reduced income and having to school home-bound children. Alcohol sales were up 55% in the third week of March at the beginning of the shut-down, compared to one year ago, according to a data analytics company who monitors such things.
Unhealthy alcohol consumption can disrupt our body’s immune system, something quite undesirable at a time when we are all concerned about our vulnerability to getting sick. Heavy drinking is also associated with increased risks for many other serious medical illnesses, including liver disease, heart muscle damage and breast cancer, to name just a few.
But what about moderate drinking? What exactly is moderation, and is it the same for all of us? The guidelines define moderate alcohol use for healthy adults is up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Remember that a standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or one and a half ounces of distilled liquor. So, to answer your question, you are still well below the guidelines for moderate drinking.
There are some individuals who should not drink any alcohol at all, however. These are women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, anyone under 21, people who are recovering from alcohol use disorder, and those with certain medical conditions or taking medications that could have dangerous interactions with alcohol. Of course, anyone planning to drive or participate in other activities requiring coordination should abstain as well.
Moderate drinking may, in fact, have some health benefits, including possible reduction in the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. But don’t start drinking just for the health benefits! There are better ways to reduce these risks, such as eating healthy and exercising. Some studies have even shown that moderate drinking can slightly increase the risk of certain cancers, such as esophageal cancer.
If the stress of the current world situation is making you turn to the bottle, look at other ways to deal with the stress that are more constructive and healthier. Meditation, talking to a professional counselor (on Zoom, of course) or going for a neighborhood run are a few ideas. Definitely seek help from your primary care doctor or addiction specialist if you feel your alcohol consumption is getting to be a problem in your life.
A few red flags to consider are drinking alone or in the morning, inability to cut down your drinking and feeling guilty about your drinking. If you are drinking excessively, getting medical help is of utmost importance, as quitting “cold turkey” can also have dangerous medical consequences.
So, unlike the era of Gatsby, the Jazz Age and the “Roaring 20s” in which alcohol was used to celebrate and toast the world, we are now 100 years later in 2020, the year of the corona pandemic. Now, alcohol is often being used to drown out the chaos and the unknown.
Let’s toast to a safer and healthier future.
Have a question for Dr. Raskin? Send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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