By Valorie Dassel
All of our lives have changed with the pandemic, guidelines for social distancing and stay-at-home orders. We have all been challenged to find new routines and a “new normal” during these unprecedented times. While many of us have met the challenge with positive adjustments, most of us have also been challenged with bad habits easing their way into our routines.
Drinking alcohol is definitely one activity that has increased during the stay-at-home order. According to University of Southern California News, alcohol sales increased by 55% in late March 2020 compared to sales in 2019. The challenges of staying at home include increased fear of illness, increased stress and boredom, which lead to some people coping by drinking. When we look on social media, it is evident that many have turned occasional drinking into an ‘every day is Saturday’ mentality. For some, recognizing why some are drinking more, and becoming aware of an increased use of alcohol, will prompt many to pull back to a more healthy normal.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for all. Individuals in recovery from alcoholism must meet each day as a new challenge. Dr. Stephen Wyatt, Medical Director of Addiction Medicine at Atrium Health, shares an analogy of how the disease of alcoholism causes neurobiological changes in the brain. He relates the normal brain’s need for oxygen as something an individual doesn’t process and think about – but rather just automatically fights for air to breathe. In a similar manner, the individual whose brain structure has been changed due to alcoholism fights for the alcohol automatically to provide what it senses the body needs. With therapy and medication, just as with many other diseases, this brain response can be changed to allow the person to move into recovery from alcoholism.
We must all be sensitive to the challenges that each person faces in recovery in addition to those of their families, who have suffered through the process or in fact are dealing with a family member in the middle of active alcoholism. For many of us not personally affected by alcoholism, someone who is drunk or something they did while drinking may be funny to joke about. Unfortunately, alcohol use was never funny to the family members of the alcoholic; it was actually embarrassing. To the recovered alcoholic who nearly lost family or may have actually lost a relationship due to their alcoholism, the comment may bring them closely back to those emotions.
Additionally, someone in recovery makes a choice every day to stay sober. Our social media posts, which were meant to poke fun at ourselves, may actually be causing a trigger for those in recovery. A comment that makes light of someone drinking excessively, day drinking or any statement normalizing alcohol use during this time in the pandemic may potentially be a trigger to someone in recovery.
This time calls for us to support our families and community. Most of us know someone who has been affected by alcoholism, and we definitely celebrate those who have conquered and found themselves in recovery. Be sure we are working to be aware of how we can support them and empathize with just how difficult it may be to be exposed to unintentional comments that may trigger their old habits. For AA zoom meetings, please visit https://evansvillevirtualm.wixsite.com/sobriety.
Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC, serves as Youth First social worker at Mater Dei High School in Evansville.