Last Updated on February 4, 2021
Since COVID-19 hit, we’ve all been living in a different world. Lockdowns, social distancing, and the pandemic itself have all meant greater isolation, uncertainty, anxiety, financial stress, and just plain old boredom for many Americans. In an attempt to cope, many people have started drinking more.
If this sounds like you, you may be asking yourself, “Will my drinking habits change once the pandemic is over?” Will your consumption of alcohol return to normal once the rest of the world does? Or are you risking addiction?
We’ll answer these burning questions below. But first, let’s look into why you might be drinking more than usual.
Why You Might Be Drinking More During the Pandemic
If you find yourself consuming more alcohol during COVID-19, you’re not alone. According to JAMA Network research, Americans have increased their alcohol use during the pandemic significantly. But why?
There are several reasons people might be drinking more during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Drinking may be helping people cope with challenging feelings—such as anxiety, boredom, panic, uncertainty, and loneliness during social distancing.
- In-person support group meetings are cancelled, making it harder to avoid falling into old habits.
- People may be seeing more alcohol advertisements during the pandemic.
- Schedules may be emptier, leaving people with little else to fill their time.
These, and other reasons, appear to be causing an overall increase in alcohol use. But if you’re among those currently drinking more than they used to, will it end after the pandemic?
Will My Drinking Habits Change After the Pandemic?
This depends on the person—but it might be harder than you’d expect. While you may experience fewer drinking triggers once the pandemic ends, you may also have established patterns of drinking that are tough to “just stop.” Here are a few reasons why:
You May Enter a Problem-Drinking Loop Over Time
According to RAND sociologist Michael Pollard, on ABC news, “People’s depression increases, anxiety increases, [and] alcohol use is often a way to cope with these feelings. But depression and anxiety are also the outcome of drinking; it’s this feedback loop where it just exacerbates the problem that it’s trying to address.”
Over time, drinking to manage difficult emotions can cause a negative cycle. While you may not initially be dependent on alcohol, you can gradually become so over time if you drink for this reason. In fact, evidence shows that alcohol and depression often make each other worse, creating long-term problems from what may be a shorter-term coping mechanism.
In other words, by drinking to cope with COVID-19, you risk developing more negative feelings that extend beyond the pandemic period. This may keep you drinking more, even after COVID ends.
Drinking at Home May Become More of a Routine
One English study comparing different drinking styles found that drinking at home is often more habitual. A moderate drinker who likes to consume beer with friends might view hitting the bar every night as excessive. But having a glass of wine at home every night to transition from work to leisure might not seem as odd.
One drink a day isn’t necessarily a problem, but it can become a routine that is harder to break. And if the stress of COVID-19 turned that one glass into one bottle, you may have a hard time returning to normal without evening alcohol cravings.
You May Have Relapsed Back Into Addictive Habits
If you’re in recovery, the pandemic might have led you to relapse. The pressure of COVID-19, plus social isolation and reduced access to support, has made things difficult for many who have struggled with substance abuse in the past.
If this describes your situation, you may be fully aware of what is happening, but it may be hard to get the care you need or find alternative ways of coping. Online support may be an option.
It’s also important not to beat yourself up: Everyone is having a hard time. But, as above, the problem will likely continue after the pandemic, and getting help sooner rather than later is your best bet.
How Much Drinking Is Too Much?
The definition of excessive drinking varies. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, heavy drinking is over four drinks per day for men, and over three for women. Moderate drinking, by contrast, is one standard drink or less per day for women. For men, it’s two or fewer.
Drink sizes vary, but a “standard drink” in this case is 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of alcohol. Curious how much alcohol is in your cup? Try this convenient drink size calculator.
There are also certain drinking habits that are riskier than others:
- Binge drinking: Essentially, drinking a large amount in a short period of time. This can increase the likelihood of alcohol-related accidents, acute illness, and even alcohol poisoning.
- Self-medication: Drinking to manage negative feelings or difficult circumstances. This is more likely to lead to dependency.
- Impulsive drinking: Drinking because of momentary cravings or urges. During the pandemic, it’s best to decide in advance how much you want to drink each week, and stick to your limits.
Coping With COVID-19 Without Drinking
Although there may be times where drinking feels like the only way to stay sane during the pandemic, it’s likely to hurt more than it helps. But, for many, it’s sometimes hard to know what else to do. Here are some alternative ways to cope during the pandemic:
- Take up a new hobby: Learn a new language, play an instrument, dance, start a garden, explore a new skill; embark on something new and exciting.
- Pursue goals you’ve been putting off: Whether it’s a business you’ve always wanted to start, or a spiritual journey you’ve been setting aside, you may have more time now than ever before. Lay the groundwork, and take advantage of a more open schedule!
- Meditate: If you drink to relax or cope with difficult issues, a meditation practice can be a great alternative. It can also help you manage alcohol cravings, and boost your well being long-term.
- Read a good book: Get lost in a story, learn about history, or explore self-help material.
- Try some alcohol alternatives: If you feel the need to have a drink to wind down, why not prepare yourself a non-alcoholic mocktail? It’s a great way to give yourself a treat, and continue your ritual, without the booze.
Read More: Staying Sober During Social Distancing
In summary, the pandemic is a challenging and uncertain period for everyone. However, any drinking patterns you develop during this time will likely not end when COVID-19 does. While it’s generally fine to have the occasional drink or two, it’s best to stay aware of how much you consume, and why, to avoid long-term consequences.
That said, most people are under unusual pressure at this moment. It can be hard to resist cravings, especially if you already have a history of alcohol addiction.
Ria Health is one online option for getting support during the pandemic. Without having to leave home, you can access expert medical advice, anti-craving medications, weekly coaching meetings, and much more. Best of all, you can choose your own goals—you don’t need to identify as an alcoholic, or even quit completely.
- Pollard M S et al. Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2020; 3(9): e2022942. Accessed January 15, 2021.
- VicHealth. Drinking more during the pandemic? This could be why. Accessed January 15, 2021.
- ABC News. Alcohol consumption rising sharply during pandemic, especially among women. Accessed January 15, 2021.
- Brierley-Jones L et al. Habitus of home and traditional drinking: a qualitative analysis of reported middle‐class alcohol use. Sociology of Health and Illness. 2014 Sept; 36(7): 1054-1076. Accessed January 15, 2021.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking Levels Defined. Accessed January 15, 2021.