April 21, 2021

Alcohol Used as Coping Mechanism for Covid Anxiety

Alcohol Used as Coping Mechanism for Covid Anxiety

While any type of alcohol consumption carries some risk for harm, consuming alcohol as a coping mechanism for anxiety creates a considerable risk for addiction. No one should use alcohol as a method of “dealing with anxiety.” When people consume alcohol in that way, it is far more likely to make conditions worse.

Unfortunately, new information indicates that anxiety-fueled alcohol consumption statistics soared during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s not surprising that the pandemic caused an uptick in anxiety among the American people. However, when alcohol consumption is entered into the mix, that adds an entirely more serious layer of risk. If consuming alcohol to cope with anxiety often sets the stage for alcohol addiction, what can families and public health officials do to steer Americans away from observed spikes in alcohol consumption during Covid-19 crises?

Anxiety, Alcohol, and Covid-19

A study published in Science Direct compiled and presented a detailed survey regarding alcohol use statistics during the Covid-19 health crisis. The findings were quite concerning. Among those surveyed, 29% of respondents admitted that their alcohol use had increased during the pandemic. Those with depressive symptoms were 64% more likely to consume alcohol during the pandemic. Of those surveyed, younger respondents had the highest probability of reporting increased alcohol use.

Study authors Capasso, et al. concluded that people who drink to cope, particularly individuals who struggle with anxiety and depression, are far more likely to engage in problem drinking, to consume more alcohol, and to drink alcohol more often during moments of high stress or trauma. Even for many Americans who did not contract Covid-19, the authors found that alcohol consumption levels soared.

Another point of interest is the inverted relationship between Covid-19 risk factors and increased alcohol consumption. While Covid-19 is more dangerous for the elderly, the study authors found that the most significant spike in anxiety-related alcohol use during the pandemic was among young adults. This revelation leads one to believe that there have been drastic effects of Covid-19 on the economy, on job security, social life, and other factors that are important to young people. Finally, young people may be experiencing high anxiety symptoms out of worry and fear for their elderly parents, for their grandparents, and for their friends.

Alcohol Used as Coping Mechanism for Covid Anxiety

However, increased anxiety over dire health and economic issues as brought on by Covid-19 is not in any way a good reason to start drinking alcohol, not for any age group. Quoting the study authors, “The observed age effect in our study suggests a need for tailoring public health messaging on substance use by age groups; and intensifying substance use prevention and treatment efforts for those who are more likely to engage in problem alcohol use in response to stress. Outreach efforts should focus on those who are most vulnerable to both COVID-19 and problem alcohol use, including older adults and those with a history of mental health disorders.”

In another study, this one titled “Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders, Comorbidity and Treatment Considerations” (published in Alcohol Research Current Review), author Joshua P. Smith, Ph.D. posits a strong connection between anxiety and alcohol addiction. Quoting his conclusion, “The comorbidity of anxiety disorders and AUDs [Alcohol Use Disorders] is fairly prevalent and clinically relevant. A growing body of literature has illuminated the developmental pathways through which these disorders merge, including the common factor, self-medication, and substance-induced routes.”

A Complex Crisis for Public Health Officials and Advocates

Given that anxiety predisposes one to higher risk factors for alcohol misuse, it would follow logically that families, communities, and public health officials would seek prevention options for reducing anxiety within the general population.

Addressing the triple danger of Covid-19, alcohol misuse, and anxiety is not easy or simple. However, health advocates, be they doctors or family members, will likely find that even just addressing the risks of one of those issues will have a positive effect on reducing risk with the other two. When a family member or health professional helps an individual lower their anxiety in a healthy manner, their risk factors for drinking to excess will likely reduce. And if a loved one is already misusing alcohol, family members and loved ones should prioritize addressing that alcohol misuse.

Addiction Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol Used as Coping Mechanism for Covid Anxiety

The risk factors surrounding Covid-19 already make 2021 a challenging moment for health and wellness. When alcohol misuse is entered in, whether that alcohol misuse comes on due to anxiety or other factors, the danger one is in increases drastically.

Once a person becomes addicted to alcohol, the safest path to take is to enter a drug and alcohol treatment center. Alcohol addiction programs provide recovering addicts with the tools they need to not only address the underlying issues that caused them to use alcohol in the first place, but such programs also give recovering addicts the tools they need to face life without turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP, LCDCL-I

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