With the rise of the pandemic COVID-19 came the fall of nightlife, one of the largest forms of entertainment as it encompasses many forms, such as clubbing, dinner dates, paint night, house parties, gatherings, and so much more. What was common about all these forms of enjoyment is that alcohol was typically served as the gateway to an eventful night out. With social distancing practices in place, our normal modes of going out have been disrupted, which might lead to the assumption that our alcohol consumption has also decreased. However, is that really the case?
A survey administered to 1,000 individuals by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility captured some interesting results on how much drinking is actually taking place as people adhere to social distancing orders and work from home. Out of the sample, 350 people reported that their drinking habits have stayed more or less the same, while another 28% claim they are drinking less. About 33% of the surveyors attributed their less drinking to not being able to go out to bars and restaurants. When asked about their habits of drinking during work hours, 33% reported they never do so, 30% said their drinking habits have not changed, and 21% concentrated around drinking less or completely stopping. However, when compared to drinking accounts from the same time last year, May 2019, it was noted that the number of people living in America increased their reporting from 71% to 79%.
What is happening? There is such a mechanism called the self-reporting bias, where people completing a survey will report a set of circumstances to seem better or worse than it is. Usually, in these cases, an individual’s feelings of being judged or emotions at that particular moment can influence how they answer the questions, and eventually, the outcome of the results. Responsibility.org took the extra step of tracking consumer spendings from this same time last year to see if there were differences in alcohol consumption and compared them against other items being bought. Here is what they found: spending on frozen foods went up a significant 36% this year when compared to this time around last year, which is understandable as stay at home orders were ongoing during this time. Other foods only went up around 20% this year when compared to the previous year. Alcohol sales, on the other hand, went up a soaring 34% during the social isolation period of 2020 when compared to the same week of last year. This might seem reasonable as people are not spending on alcohol elsewhere and are confined to drinking at home. However, when you take into account that the sale of non-alcoholic drinks increased by only 7.5%, well, that speaks for itself. Check out Alcohol.org for an interactive exploration of what percentage of Americans are drinking during work hours in their respective states.
While the increased drinking habits are not dangerous on a societal level, since stay-at-home orders discourage drinking and driving, consumption of alcohol is still detrimental to the individual. Adding an even more sedentary life during this time leaves one’s health at greater risk, during a time our reliance on our immune systems is at peak. Another survey conducted by OnePoll among 2,000 Americans unveiled that the average person gained about five pounds during quarantine orders. The two biggest factors that contributed to this weight gain are an increase in alcohol consumption and carbohydrate-rich foods like pasta and baked desserts. Out of the 2,000 participants, a whopping 65% or 1,300 individuals confessed that they have taken a hiatus from their usual exercise routine. It is noteworthy that all 2,000 individuals said they were working out consistently before the stay-at-home orders.
The culprits for increased alcohol use seem to be a combination of stress, depression, boredom, reallocation of money spent, and working from home virtual happy hours, as reported by Jason Stoogenke. John Clapp, a professor of social work, acknowledges that this is an extremely difficult time as people cope with unemployment, layover, kids and spouses at home, budgeting, and the looming threat of the COVID-19 itself, as reported by USC News. However, relying on alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety does more harm for the body and the brain. With prolonged alcohol use, the brain’s reward pathway can get hijacked, making sober days seem longer and that much more unpleasant. It becomes a hazardous cycle as we continue to down drinks to relieve feelings of anxiety but feel more anxious and stressed without the drink. This can lead to a spiraling down of dependency, and at its worse, addiction. During a time of increased indolence, caloric intake, and drinking, it can become that much more difficult to remain in control over our lives.
When our home lives become the place we complete all activities, it can be difficult to retain a sense of normalcy in our day to day. To cope with feelings of anxiety and restlessness, it is important to regain control over your lives and there are some simple ways to do this. Getting up from bed, taking a shower, and getting dressed signal your body that the day is not to be spent working in bed. Let’s be honest – who gets all dressed up just to sit in bed? Schedule meals around regular times, so make sure you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the prescribed hours of the day. For men, continue to shave regularly and for women, continue with your usual styling and dressing up with whatever is available to you at home. How you look and present yourself is an indicator of how you are going to feel. Continue to have a nighttime routine, with a focus on your skin and oral hygiene. Make sure you floss, brush your teeth at night, wash your face, and dust your bed. A consistent nighttime routine signals your body that it is time for you to sleep. It can also get chaotic to be around family members who are also lacking structure and have access to you every hour of the day. Broadcast your schedule and have some time between hours to reconnect with your loved ones but have them respect your working hours, your need to recharge, and pursuit of your hobbies and interests. It is worth reiterating some home etiquette for everyone to ensure harmony during work and school hours, where a sense of focus is important. Designate specific nights to drink so it feels special. Friday and Saturday nights are usually going out and drinking nights. Spend some time with your spouse, order some takeout, and light some candles. Schedule a Zoom meeting with your girls on that one night so it feels special and get dressed up for that virtual call. Continue to exercise as there are unlimited virtual classes online. There are also so many virtual meditation classes, with My Virtual Meditation being one option. Let’s be honest with ourselves - we don’t want to be THAT friend who comes out looking like they lost all forms of sanity once the social distancing orders are lifted.