The Danger of Drinking in Isolation
Research shows that alcohol is connected to a number of diseases.
Posted April 7, 2020
The 55% increase in alcohol sales last month (reported by a number of news outlets who cited Nielsen’s research) may reveal how people are coping with the quarantine. With the relative ease of having alcohol delivered to one’s doorstep coupled with the widespread acceptance and normalization of drinking that have eclipsed former stigma-bans (like people should not drink on weekdays, women should not drink, and a person should never drink alone), the danger of using alcohol to combat one’s anxiety, loneliness, and grief is at an all-time high.
Not only is alcohol a carcinogen and associated with an array of cancers (breast, mouth, esophagus, liver, larynx, colon and rectal, and others), it is causally related to diabetes, ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, cerebrovascular disease, and unipolar depressive disorders among other deleterious health diseases (Milic, Glisic, Voortman, Borba, Asllanaj, Rojas, Troup, Kiefte-de Jong, van Beeck, Muka, & Franco, 2018).
Women are particularly vulnerable as they absorb significantly more alcohol than males of equal weight and menopausal and older women are at even greater risk as their bodies are lesser equipped to process alcohol’s toxins (Milic et al., 2018).
But I thought a little bit of alcohol was beneficial?
Yes, studies have shown a wee little bit of alcohol could be protective. Paracelsus, the father of toxicology, defined a toxin as a dose. There is a measurement when something good becomes dangerous, or toxic. As an example, humans need vitamin A and selenium, yet too much vitamin A can build up in your fat cells and cause toxic effects like hair loss and death. Too much selenium can also lead to hair loss and a host of other problems and in severe cases, selenosis could lead to renal failure and death. It’s not something to play around with. And most people don’t gamble with their lives by taking extra supplements for the fun of it.
The problem with alcohol is that it feels good and provides an uplifting dopamine hit and relieves anxiety. It’s socially acceptable and its inhibitory effect brings people together and facilitates bonding, laughter, and ebullience. It can be used to help stir up romance and intimacy. You get the gist. Yet alcohol’s cunning qualities are its addictiveness, tolerance (requiring drinkers to consume more to feel its effect), and withdrawal.
A number of studies have looked at identifying quantities and frequency of safe alcohol consumption to derive its protective benefits and it appears men should not drink more than two drinks per day and no more than 14 drinks per week while women should not drink more than one drink per day and no more than 7 drinks per week (NIH, 2020).
If you are struggling to decrease the amount you are drinking to stay within these limits or if you find that you binge on alcohol from time to time, you may be suffering from alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder. In these cases, abstinence may be your best option. Research has indicated good success with support programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and they can offer phone support and virtual meetings. You can learn more through their website. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also has additional information on their site.
Please know it is not uncommon to have co-morbid issues with addiction. This means someone may also rely on pills, marijuana, and other substances along with drinking dependence. Sometimes there is a food addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, gambling addiction, or some other addiction that is subconsciously used to manage anxiety. No one is above addiction as it can happen to anyone in any demographic, regardless of education, income, race, or gender.
When Paracelsus described the dose as toxin, experiencing unprecedented stress levels that is happening with this pandemic and the associated isolation, job loss, and grief from the death of loved ones can be toxic.
These types of stress levels can wipe out an immune system and make one extra-vulnerable to self-destructive habits and addictions. Therefore, it is even more urgent to bolster oneself with healthy coping skills, activities, and ways of thinking. So, before you go reach for that drink or other unhealthy coping mechanism, try some these things instead:
- Manage your perspective by finding gratitude for what you do have and replacing doomsday thoughts with creative problem-solving and solution-focused thoughts.
- Don’t escape your emotions. Try to find ways to recognize what you are feeling and to recognize the emotions in others. Your feelings might be trying to tell you something and invite actions (or inactions) that you will miss if you ignore them.
- As you plan action-steps and goals, make them realistic and achievable. There is nothing worse than setting oneself up for failure by listing a goal that cannot be achieved. If you do have a big dream that seems unachievable, try creating realistic goals that lead to that path.
- Learn from mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up; just don’t ignore the opportunity to reflect and grow.
- Let go of the need and desire to control other people. Accept people for who they are, what they are and where they are at. No matter how close you are to them, you are not privy to the inner workings of their mind or their history. The more you think you know, the more likely it is you projecting and not accepting.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If someone cannot help you, try a different resource. No one person can be all things to another person.
- Keep building your self-esteem by dropping the negative self-talk and doing things that make you like and respect yourself.
- Move your body. Work out, walk, run, jog, do yoga, lift weights, garden, build something. Doing physical things helps release the added adrenaline that is coursing through your veins from all that stress. Let it out. Getting in nature has the added benefit of calming and grounding.
Please feel free to share your experiences along with any tips that have worked for you in the comments. My warmest thoughts to all. Be safe and take the best of care.
Milic, J., Glisic, M., Voortman, T., Borba, L. P., Asllanaj, E., Rojas, L. Z., Troup, J., Kiefte-de Jong, J. C., van Beeck, E., Muka, T., & Franco, O. H. (2018). Menopause, ageing, and alcohol use disorders in women. Maturitas, 111, 100–109. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2018.03.006
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). [Website]. Retrieved at https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/unders…