As a psychotherapist for San Diego’s LGBTQ community, I’ve observed that the ongoing psychological and economic distress of the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely encouraged more people to drink more alcohol more often.
Using alcohol to cope with depression and stress is nothing new, but alcohol can also make increase symptoms of mood disorders such as depression, dysthymia (a mild, ongoing depression) and bipolar disorder. It may make you feel more “chill” today, but, tomorrow, it could leave you feeling worse. Alcohol can also mess up your REM sleep…not to mention make you gain weight.
Some people are afraid to look at how much they drink. A client recently asked me, “Do only ‘weak’ people drink in bad times?” It’s more accurate (and helpful) to realize that we’re living in a pandemic that has killed over 406,000 Americans, decimated the job market and jacked-up loneliness to unbelievable levels.
And alcohol is so easy to get. Couple that with all those drinking-centered virtual events (Zoom happy hours, online dating) and having to deal with things we’ve never had to cope with before, like working from home, not seeing friends, no more indoor gyms or yoga classes, and it’s no surprise why drinking rates are up.
There have been historic increases in alcohol use following other traumatic events like September 11, but what’s unique about the COVID-19 pandemic is that it’s much longer lasting and universal. The whole planet is suffering and – unless you’re an accomplished Buddhist – most of us are not very good at suffering. Advertising tells us that we can buy something to deaden our pain: clothes, sex, drugs, cars and, of course, alcohol. Plus, so many people on social media encourage each other to drink more.
To address problematic drinking, many people turn to 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). If it works for you: that’s great. For some of my clients, however, the program isn’t a good fit. Does AA really work? Most independent research finds the success rate of AA at somewhere between 5-10 percent. However, according to AA: 33% of their members said they had been sober for more than a decade, 12% percent claimed sobriety for five to 10 years, 24% were sober for one to five years, and 31% were sober for under a year.
For some people, AA works beautifully. Not so for everyone. If it’s working for you, do more of it. Whatever treatment program/self-help group/spiritual community you’ve found that is meeting your needs and keeping you healthy is the right one for you.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to good mental health care. And in the past year, there’s been an overwhelming demand and not enough supply. People are going to engage where they feel comfortable and connect with like-minded folks, especially in LGBTQ-friendly groups that destigmatize addiction and make the concept of sobriety more do-able.
The first step for many folks will be recognizing – like Teigen, Ben Affleck and countless others—that they need support, regardless of whether they choose to label themselves as alcoholics or not. Most of us know in our gut if we’re drinking more than is good for us, or drinking for the wrong reasons (not to celebrate, but to escape/avoid/numb something).
If you are concerned about your drinking, a good first step is awareness and questioning. Be neutral – not judgmental – about your drinking. As your self-inquiry moves forward, start to see what resources are available to you.
One resource for personal growth is join me (and 20 other gay men) in my February 20th workshop: “Power, Love & Presence: The Joys of Getting Older”. This Zoom workshop will be based on my soon-to-be-published book: “The Gay Man’s Guide to Aging Well”.
The Saturday, February 20th workshop will be an interactive experience: you’ll be talking with different men individually (through the use of breakout rooms) as well as discussing topics with the entire group of men.
The workshop is limited to a maximum of 20 men, costs $25 and will run for 1-3PM. Interested? email me at firstname.lastname@example.org