Social media makes us believe that drinking during the coronavirus pandemic has become a national pastime.
From celebrities like Madonna, Ina Garten and Meryl Streep to our friends, relatives and colleagues, it seems that almost everyone has a photo, thread or meme of their latest cocktail indulgence or even happy hour in the afternoon released.
The intention is probably a lot of fun, a carefree break from the hardships of isolation and protection on site. Indeed, with the record-breaking sales of alcohol counted by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, drug abuse experts are concerned about increased alcohol consumption.
RELATED: Sales of alcohol in Pa break records during the coronavirus pandemic
“We absolutely expect the effects of people who have more access to alcohol to sound strange because of the liquor stores closed, but had more access at home and more, and attended more than they did, will have a long-term impact that we won't see until normal return and life resume, ”said Jennifer Smith, director of the department for drug and alcohol programs in Pennsylvania.
“We expect this to see a steady increase in treatment needs related to alcohol-specific problems. “
Alcohol consumption tends to increase in times of severe stress and crisis, and can sometimes be mistaken for a coping mechanism. The coronavirus pandemic – with the added stress factors of possible job losses, vacation days, reduced income or the stress of schooling children at home – is likely to exacerbate these factors and lead to overuse.
All of this is paired with the fact that people are at home and have easy access to the liquor cabinet.
"What is really scary is that alcohol has been a silent killer for so many years," said Smith. “We're talking about the opioid crisis because we've seen overdose deaths, but alcoholism has been rampant for decades. It's just that you don't see immediate deaths from overdose at a young age, but the long-term health effects. You see cirrhosis, you see liver transplants. “
From a data perspective, calls to the hotline are the most reliable nationwide indicator of problems related to alcohol consumption.
The week of May 4, -10, for example, the number of calls related to alcohol on hotlines increased significantly.
Among the callers willing to share information about themselves and the reasons for the call, the number of calls specifically related to alcohol problems has doubled.
In many cases, the call can be the first signal – or contemplation – that something is wrong.
"We received calls from people who are thinking about it," said Kristin Varner, director of the Dauphin County Department of Drug and Alcohol Services. "You didn't go to treatment. These are people who work full time. You work from home and have drunk more. Maybe these are people who drank on weekends and now drink all day. “
HOTLINE INFORMATION: To find a treatment provider, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or contact your local dealer for drugs and alcohol.
The hotline even logged calls from people who are calling to say they are concerned about running out of alcohol.
"You say, 'I've never drunk so much earlier and I'm running out of alcohol," said Varner.
This speaks for their concern, although many people say that they are not interested in being treated for COVID-19 because of it. “
Varner is concerned that many people who drink every day will be given permission to go back to work as soon as the Dauphin district is put into the green reopening phase.
"Alcohol is one of the drugs that we don't talk about," said Varner. "Alcohol is more deadly than heroin, but it is such a socially acceptable substance that we don't talk about it."
Contrary to the more immediate effects of misusing other substances, the effects of alcohol abuse take longer to a disease level to manifest.
"Heroin is instant," said Varner. “Alcohol takes a lot longer. When we return, these people may not be ready for treatment, but they are slowly losing things in life that are important to them. You will start trading things for alcohol. “
At this point most people have become addicted to alcohol and need treatment.
Varner and Smith deal with the amount of alcohol-related posts on social media and even on television.
"If people keep posting, it becomes the norm in dealing with the pandemic," said Varner.
] There are even games about drinking on social media platforms – for example, watching a movie and drinking a drink when a character uses a word.
"This is not what society needs to see," said Varner. “Given the increasing anxiety and mental health problems, many people do alcohol, which is actually the worst. People are looking for a quick fix until they wake up the next morning and feel worse. The cycle continues. “
Varner said that a clear indicator that you might have a problem is the idea to ask yourself if you have a problem.
“If you're wondering if you're drinking too much, that's usually the first step. It's a reflection, ”she said.
The immediate first step to address the problem: call the hotline, Varner said. Drug abuse experts can perform a simple screening and assessment and determine if treatment is needed.
"The bottom line is that the treatment works," she said. "Alcoholism is a disease for which there is currently no cure, but a treatment."
Smith is particularly concerned about the message parents may send to their children.
"Typically, you wait until you have a drink if you spend a women's evening and have a designated driver," she said. "Your children don't see that. If you decide to attend more at home now, are these parents taking the opportunity to talk to their children about alcohol? To say that's what I drink. This is something you cannot drink until you are old enough. They use it as a teaching opportunity. I suspect it probably won't happen. “
Smith spoke out against a comedy sketch that aired on Saturday night that showed infants and toddlers drinking and begging parents to allow them to drink
Smith, one Mother of four, including two teenagers, said she was horrified by the sketch.
"It was clearly intended as a parody … but it only sends a terrible message about the acceptance of alcohol consumption," said Smith. " Unfortunately, an SNL sketch might be needed to force us to recognize that we need to take a harder stance. We cannot send the message to children that this is a joke. When they get used to joking and talking about it and learning about it and pretending to drink at a young age, they are much more susceptible to engaging in this activity early on. “
Data shows that the earlier A person starts drinking, the more likely they are to develop a full-blown substance abuse disorder in adulthood.
"We need to be more responsible," said Smith.
Ultimately, she said there is a fine line between adults doing legal work and government intervention.
“We do not imply that people should not have the ability to buy and consume. That is their right. It's a legal activity, ”said Smith. "As a government agency, we never want to enter the territory to dictate what people should do with their time and money when it really is a legal activity, but at the same time, as a government agency, we have a responsibility to try to ensure that people behave healthy and do what they can by engaging in activities that could lead to long-term medical illnesses such as addiction and substance abuse. “
Pa. Coronavirus cases exceed 63,000; more than 4,500 have died
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