Emmy and Grammy winner Ken Burns said it best in his documentary “Prohibition”, calling the United States a “nation of drunkards” in the first episode.
America has a recurring drinking problem, especially the consumption of distilled spirits, made worse by COVID-19. Alcohol use is an unrecognized and deadly epidemic that threatens our national mental and physical health. In fact, 14.5 million Americans were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder in 2019, before the pandemic.
Alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic, and the consequences are expected to outlast the virus. The American Psychological Association asked how many adults used alcohol to manage their stress; 25% of respondents said they do.
The country is trying to get out of COVID-19 and many people are struggling to adjust.
Americans drink large amounts of alcohol in general, and it’s even higher now because of the pandemic. Many Americans now drink every day, drink more, and drink alone.
People don’t drink to make life better; they drink to manage their anxiety, depression and social isolation. They are deeply affected by the pandemic which has killed more than 630,000 people.
A report during the pandemic said binge drinking by American women increased by 41% from 2019. The most notable increases were those with children aged 5 to 7. Today, American women drink almost as much as men.
The problem begins with the wide availability of alcohol-related products. Some grocery stores now offer wine and draft beer. It’s also sold in theaters, Starbucks, sporting events, Chuck E Cheese, even zoos and Disneyland – and the list goes on. Do you really need a drink to watch caged animals or to shop in the produce aisle?
And now Colorado’s take-out drink law has been extended for four years, allowing restaurants and bars to deliver drinks between 7 a.m. (really?) And midnight, thanks to Bill 21-1027.
Beer sales increased 45.6% in mid-2020, wine increased 44.3%, and distilled spirits 19.4%, according to Nielsen survey analysis.
A large local liquor store reports that its sales have increased by more than 20% in the past year.
There are more than 95,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 261 deaths per day.
Consumption behaviors vary according to age. Adults under 40 were the most likely, at 40%, to report increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic. This compares to 30% for those 40 to 59 and 20% for those over 60. That’s according to Yesim Tozan, professor of global health at the New York School of Global Public Health.
There are ways to alleviate these problems, in addition to total abstinence.
The first step is to reduce the availability of alcohol. I’m not advocating another ban, just moderation, common sense, and don’t drink alone.
Here is some professional advice for those who want to control their alcohol consumption:
Stop denying if you feel like you’re drinking too much.
Learn safer and alternative ways to deal with stress, manage anxiety, and social isolation.
Realize that alcohol use disorder can be part of your family’s genetics, along with a propensity to drink excessively.
Don’t drink alone. This is a major warning sign. A company sells Busch Dog Brew, a broth drink for dogs, apparently for solo drinkers with dogs to pretend they don’t drink alone.
Support teaching students from an early age of the deleterious effects of excessive alcohol consumption. Colleges need to do more to monitor and discourage binge drinking.
Choose your drinks carefully: A 1.5 ounce dose of distilled spirits contains around 40% alcohol, which is significantly higher than beer or wine.
Teach people about the effects excessive alcohol consumption can have on their bodies, leading to more cancer, liver disease, higher blood pressure, and premature aging.
For those who wish to reduce their alcohol consumption, there are some useful online tools:
- Rethinkdrinking.com is an online home coaching program to help people reduce their alcohol consumption.
- Cutbackcoach.com is a popular app that helps people track their alcohol consumption and sets goals and reminders to develop healthier drinking habits.
- Moderation Management is an online forum for people who want to reduce their alcohol consumption without abstaining from it.
- Ria Health helps people with personal advice online.
David Jernigan, professor of health law, policy and management at the Boston University School of Public Health, said, “Alcohol is our favorite drug. It is also the drug of choice for the people who write the law. Alcohol is like the wallpaper in our society; it’s so common that people stop noticing it’s there.
We have a nationwide alcohol problem and its use as a coping mechanism is uniquely American.
Jim Martin can be reached at [email protected]