At first, the COVID-19 requirement to stay home felt chaotic and unstructured, but even as many found a groove, some uncontrolled habits remained, including excessive drinking.

Whether it’s isolation, lack of in-person support group meetings or sheer boredom, the nation’s consumption of alcohol has spiked as the pandemic drags on. Figures reported by the market research firm Nielsen, sales of alcoholic beverages climbed 55 percent in one week over the same timeframe in 2019. Hard liquor sales were up 75 percent, beer up 66 percent and wine up 42 percent.

The numbers are troubling for Dr. J. Craig Allen,, vice president of addiction services for Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network, who worries that people are indulging too much during the pandemic and not seeking the help they need.

“People who didn’t have a problem before may be developing one,” Dr. Allen said, “people who had a problem but were in recovery are at greater risk of relapsing and those with an active problem may be getting worse.”

Besides lowering the body’s immunity against such infections as COVID-19, excessive alcohol affects brain functions including judgment, memory, mood, reflexes, sleep, digestion, liver function, hydration and heart function.

How do you know if you – or a loved one – are indulging too often? If you can answer yes to one or more of the following, there might be a problem.

  • Your drinking knows no bounds. You’re drinking more and more, drinking more at night because you don’t have to be up and presentable for work at a certain time, or you’re starting earlier while working – or not working — from home.
  • You have time for little else. You don’t pursue regular hobbies because you’re too focused on drinking.
  • You think about it often. In the morning, you plan what you’ll drink later and think about it all day.
  • Your work or relationships are suffering. You’re skipping fun with the family, or not keeping up with remote work assignments.
  • You’re sneaking drinks. Maybe you keep a secret stash you sneak away to or you’re heavy-handed when pouring and no one is looking.
  • Someone said something. Has your partner, boss, friend or child mentioned your drinking? Even more telling is your response. Do you get angry or defensive?

Dr. Allen said people increase their risk for developing alcohol use disorder and the physical problems related to alcohol use when men have more than five drinks a day or more than 15 a week, or women have more than four drinks a day or eight or more in a week.

“Alcoholism is one of our nation’s biggest health problems,” Dr. Allen said. “COVID-10 brings the stress of social isolation, disrupted routines, financial concerns and healthcare worries for family, friends and themselves.

“Alcohol can dampen those concerns, although only briefly, and quickly that solution can become a big, big problem.”

He stressed that the Behavioral Health Network, which includes services for substance abuse at Rushford, is open for inpatient care and telehealth services, including virtual support groups.

For help, new or existing Behavioral Health Network patients can call the Warmline at 888.984.2408. Someone will return your call.

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