Pandemic stress prompts spike in alcohol use; could you be a “gray area” drinker?

Health


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The stress of the pandemic is prompting some people to turn to the bottle or grab that glass of wine more often with alcohol sales and consumption is way up. 

While you might have noticed you have been indulging in a few too many drinks lately, you also may not think your drinking is serious.

“I’m not falling down drunk, I have no DUI’s, I do my job well, so I am not an alcoholic.”

The experts say it’s not always to black or white, you may be in the gray — like Nate Peo. For him, an occasional glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail with co-workers had become a nightly habit.

“Two to three drinks, five to seven nights a week,” Peo said. 

He says his industry had a lot of networking events with an open bar.  Yet he says even at home it hard to say no.

“The one that always kind of got me was the bottle of wine,” Peo said. “You realize that two glasses of wine was more like two and a half to three.”

It wasn’t until he started a new workout program that required he not drink for a period of time that he began to question his drinking.

“I didn’t feel like I identified as a Rock Bottom alcoholic,” he said. “I was struggling to kind of find balance.”

Doctor Renee Solomon the Founder of Forward Recovery says a lot of folks are struggling to find balance right now. Trying to cope with COVID-19 stress like changes at work, stay at home orders and virtual learning has more people finding themselves unwinding with a glass or wine or “quarintini.”

“Now the focus is on loss of jobs, people dying with less social interaction,” explained Dr. Solomon.

Alcohol sales have spiked in Virginia aided by a loosening of restrictions for delivery and cocktails to go.  In addition, Virginia’s ABC stores remained open during statewide shutdowns as the stores have been considered essential.

According to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, in just the first two months of the pandemic Virginians spent more than $200 million dollars on booze and ABC stores saw a $117 million dollar increase in sales for fiscal year 2020.

“We don’t want to feel those bad feelings. This is a way to escape,” said Richmonder Kari Schwear, the founder of Graytonic.

The discovery coach has seen an increase of people reaching out for help in the pandemic and believes a lot people fall into what she calls a “gray area” of drinking.

“It’s somebody who is not just having a drink here or there but it’s somebody who is doing it little more often but they’re not severely abusing alcohol,” she said.

Schwear said these people not a stumbling drunk or keep bottle in their desk drawer, however, they’re weekend social drinking might have turned into nightly glasses of wine or evenings of cocktails with friends over zoom.

“A lot of high achievers and high performers are in the gray area,” said Schwear.

While you may be able to get your work done and take care of the kids-too much alcohol can take its toll. Excessive drinking can lead to weight gain, depression and sleepless nights.

“I am not fully present for my family. I don’t have the mental sharpness, that I once had,” Schwear explained.

Even worse, it can lead to liver disease. Hospitals across the country are now reporting a 30-percent uptick in alcohol liver disease admissions according to Gastro-enter-ologist Doctor Rajat Sood.  

“I’ve had tons of patients with alcoholic liver disease,” he said. “They were stable and doing fine and not deteriorating by any means and were not heading towards transplant or cancer, but this pandemic has thrown a wrench in things.”

Locally VCU Health reports a spike in liver disease cases mainly among females. VCU Health Spokesperson Alex Nowak sent the following statement:

We have seen an increase in admissions for alcoholic liver disease at VCU Medical Center since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this increase coincides with the timing of the pandemic, we cannot definitively say it is due to the pandemic as deaths related to alcoholic-related liver disease have been increasing for three years. According to our researchers, this is disproportionately impacting women – particularly young women. VCU Health is part of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) national network studying alcohol-induced liver diseases. VCU Health is performing multiple clinical trials to reduce the mortality due to alcoholic hepatitis, which is one type of liver disease.

Alex Nowak, VCU Health Spokesperson

Of course, if your not careful you can become dependent on drinking.  

“Gray area drinkers have a choice to drink. They can choose to continue drink or continue to go the other direction,” said Schwear.

This is why Schwear, once a gray area drinker herself, offers one-on-one or group classes to get people to start to “question the drink.”

“I really help them discover the reasons why they are drinking,” she said. “It’s not about the alcohol, it’s always something that is underneath all of that.”

“You know that you’re not as healthy as you could be,” Peo said. “You start asking yourself deeper questions like why do you feel you need to have alcohol at an event.”

He has done both one-on-one classes and group sessions. He says Schwear helped him create a better relationship with alcohol.  

“Yes, I do drink,” he said. “I have gone in phases where I haven’t drank for a period of time. It shows you that there is alternatives.”

Schwear’s Graytonic coaching classes can be done virtually online or by phone. If you or someone you know is abusing alcohol, Alcoholics Anonymous offers meetings online. You can find more information here or call the the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services helpline at 1- 800-622-help. 



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