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April is alcohol awareness month, and as habits increasingly arise during a two-year pandemic, now may be a good time to reconsider your alcohol consumption for the sake of health and well-being.
As home stay orders were implemented due to COVID-19, excessive drinking increased by 21%, according to research published earlier this year in the journal Hepatology.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said 25.9 million Americans who drink alcohol reported having drunk more alcohol during the pandemic than before, according to a October 2021 report from the government agency.
Dr. Sarah Church – who is the founder and CEO of the Wholeview Wellness Center – an addiction treatment program in New York City, said there are a variety of reasons why people increased their drinking during the pandemic.
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“Alcohol could be used as a coping mechanism for either loneliness and boredom or for strife in the relationship,” Church told Fox News Digital. “Also, people experienced that they had trouble switching between work and after work, and sometimes it was drinking something they used to make that transition.”
Church added that without early morning commuting, people may have felt they could drink a little more.
“Some people found out they drank a lot more and they actually couldn’t stop,” Church said. “So when they were called back to work, they found out they had to go to detox to be able to get back to work.”
The effects of alcohol on the body
The increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic is expected to cause an increase in deaths, liver failure and alcohol-related liver disease, according to the study published in Hepatology, which Fox News Digital previously covered.
According to researchers, a one-year increase in alcohol consumption is estimated to result in 100 more deaths, 2,800 additional cases of liver failure and 8,000 deaths due to alcohol-related liver disease by 2023.
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In general, excessive alcohol consumption has a number of short-term and long-term health risks, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Short-term health risks from excessive alcohol consumption include injuries from car accidents, falls, drowning and burns; violence; alcohol poisoning; risky sexual behavior; and abortion, stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder among pregnant women, the CDC wrote on its website.
The CDC also mentions several long-term health risks of excessive alcohol use over time, which include several chronic health conditions, including heart disease, digestive problems, various cancers – including breast cancer, colon cancer, throat cancer and liver cancer, – weakening of the immune system and memory problems.
In March, a study published in Nature Communications also found that drinking an average of just one or two alcoholic drinks each day can cause a person’s brain substance to shrink.
“Some people found that they drank a lot more and they could not actually stop. So when they were called back to work, they found that they had to go to detox to be able to get back to work.”
“I think what the average person can take out of it is that it’s probably not great for your brain to drink every day,” Church said of the study’s findings. “You really want to think about reducing your alcohol.”
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Drinking alcohol can also affect someone’s sex life, Church said.
“Some people will find that their partner is not that interested in having sex with them when they drink a lot,” Church said. “Some men will find that they are not able to perform when they have had a lot to drink.”
“There may be other effects where it can affect your mood,” Church added. “If your mood is low, you may be less interested, you may have less libido.”
‘Tricky’ culture around drinking
Church said alcohol is “probably the most difficult thing” when discussing the types of drug use problems that people face.
This is because alcohol is legal and in some circles it is celebrated to drink, such as in the “mommy wine culture”.
“[Alcohol] is really normalized, “Church said.” But some people find that they can not drink safely, or they can not drink under control, and then they have to make changes, or they have to stop drinking. “
“It can be really hard for people,” she added. “They feel embarrassed or ashamed of it.”
How to tell if alcohol is a problem
For someone who is not sure if alcohol is a problem for them, Church said she recommends thinking about “how they feel and how they work.”
Some of these indicators may include missing work days, having problems in their relationship, or if someone has told them directly that they have a drinking problem.
“Things like that tend to be the first signs,” Church said.
The church also recommended checking out myrelationshipwithalcohol.com, which has a questionnaire to help people take stock of their own alcohol consumption and drinking patterns.
“If they’re really worried about it … I would encourage people to try talking to someone about it, either their doctor or a trusted friend or someone like a therapist … to talk about what’s going on with their drinking, “Church said.
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One strategy to find out if drinking is a problem for anyone is “sobriety sampling,” which the Wholeview Wellness Center encourages patients to try.
“[Alcohol] is really normalized. But some people find that they can not drink safely, or that they can not drink under control, and then they have to make changes, or they have to stop drinking. “
A sobriety test, as the church explained, means a person has to compare a period when they are not drinking with a time when they were drinking, to see if there is a difference.
“Is their sleep better? Are their conditions better, or are they doing better at work?” said the church. “[Looking at] what happens when they do not use them. And sometimes when they reflect on the period they drank, they can see if it was a problem or not. “
If it’s a problem for someone to drink alcohol, the church said there are plenty of options for seeking help, including mutual support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training), which is a cognitive behavioral mutual support group.
Church also said a doctor or therapist can discuss options for FDA-approved medications that can help people reduce their alcohol consumption.
“What I always want people to know is that there are effective treatments, and that treatment for alcohol abuse actually helps,” Church said. “The results of treatment are exactly the same as any chronic medical condition.”
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The church said alcohol abuse is just like any other chronic medical condition.
“We do not have a cure for it yet,” Church said. “It looks like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma. People struggle with any chronic medical condition, taking their medication, doing what they have to do to support themselves.”
The church gave an example of someone having diabetes slipping up and eating a piece of cake once in a while.
“It’s the same with drinking,” Church said. “Maybe if you try to stay away from alcohol, you occasionally have a mistake.”
“What we want to do is reduce these slips as much as possible, have as many periods of abstinence as possible and get the performance as high as possible,” she added. “And that’s true for any chronic medical condition.”
Strategies to reduce alcohol consumption
Skills and Strategies The Church recommends to reduce alcohol consumption include arriving late for events or leaving early, substituting a non-alcoholic drink between each alcoholic beverage, or doing activities with friends who do not involve alcohol.
“Another technique is to just be really mindful of drinking, so really enjoy every sip you have and take it a little slower,” Church said.
Since many have turned to alcohol to adapt to pandemic-related stress, Church suggested that people instead find other ways to cope.
“We really encourage people to do more of what they love,” Church said.
“So, adding more positive, fun activities to their lives that in a way displace the amount that they drink and increase enjoyable activities,” she added.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or substance abuse, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Fox News Digital’s Amy McGorry and Shiv Sudhakar contributed to this report.