Alcohol & The Pandemic: How Much Is Too Much?


“Who else was drunk the entire month of March?”

“The world is now Vegas: everybody’s losing money. It’s acceptable to drink at all hours, and no one has any idea what day it is.”

“You think it’s bad now?  In twenty years, our country will be run by people home-schooled by day drinkers.”

These popular memes have flooded social media for weeks, gaining thousands of likes, shares and laughs.  Although clever and funny, the reported 55% increase in alcohol sales nationwide by the last week of March and liquor stores remaining essential businesses in most states proves these memes are a current reality for many.

Over the last ten years, my career in addiction treatment and openness about my own past alcohol misuse has made me a judgment-free zone for people to process their own drinking habits or the habits of someone they love.  My counsel comes from a head full of technical and factual knowledge from working in the mental health field combined with a heart full of personal experience.  

First, I ask people to name the motive behind alcohol use:

    • Do you drink to avoid feeling or dealing?
    • Do you drink to relieve stress? 
    • Do you drink to avoid changing certain life circumstances?
    • Do you drink because you feel depressed or anxious?

Who doesn’t want to check out from life once in a while?  We all have to work through uncomfortable feelings, relieve stress, face difficult changes, cope with depression and anxiety, and deal with life on life’s terms – especially during a national pandemic.

I encourage people to examine motives behind alcohol use because addictions are just as much psychological as physical.  In the recovery world, when we talk about psychological and physical dependency on alcohol, we often look for the moment we turned “from a cucumber into a pickle.”  The idea is that once a cucumber becomes a pickle, it can never go back to being just a cucumber. Problem drinking is the same way.

Although day drinking jokes might be funny – and I even laugh myself – I know all too well the potential implications.  For me, I describe the entry point into dependence as when I couldn’t live without alcohol, yet I couldn’t live with it.  It was the turning point when I began hating how I acted when I drank, yet I hated how I felt when I did not.

Second, I tell people it’s not necessarily about how much or how often you drink, but about what happens when you drink.  Don’t get me wrong, anyone can look up the screening criteria for alcohol dependency and judge themselves or their loved ones based on recommended drinks per day.  But often people rationalize those numbers due to circumstances.  A quarantine and pandemic are a great example.

When people express concern about drinking habits, I ask:

    • Do you ever blackout when you drink?
    • Do you do or say things when you drink that you feel guilty about when you’re sober?
    • Are you able to have one drink and stop?
    • Are you restless, irritable, and discontent the day after you drink or in between drinking opportunities?

These questions help assess whether you or your loved one drinks normally or has crossed the line into problem drinking.

It’s always a good idea to ask yourself: “How do I “feel and deal” with stress without alcohol?”

A few months after I got sober in 2008, I had breakfast with a good friend who had recently completed her PhD.  We’d had some great times in college, but she was never a big drinker.  I explained how I’d used alcohol to numb or celebrate my days for so long that I did not know how to end a day in a healthy way; her response blew me away.  She said: “I take a hot shower at the end of each day.  It’s what I look forward to.  I have to have my hot shower to destress.” 

I thought: “What?  A hot shower to replace red wine, Blue Moon, or a dirty martini?  How does that calm you down?”

The take-away: We all need to find healthy ways to calm ourselves down.

As a parent, when I notice myself boiling over with the kids, I “re-parent” myself and put myself in a “time-out.” Sometimes that’s sitting calmly in another room for deep breathing or a quick guided mediation; other times it’s in my closet to cry and scream in the fetal position.  I give myself that moment to feel the emotions rather than use it as an opportunity to check out.

It’s important to remember: Alcohol doesn’t change the world around us, it only changes the world within us.  If we don’t feel those feelings now, we’ll have to feel them eventually. Feeling leads to healing and growth, and ultimately that’s what we all need most.

About Laura:

Laura Kunz is a Cincinnati, Ohio native who resides in Jupiter, Florida with her husband, Travis and two children, Kennedy (age 5), and Anderson (age 1.5).  She’s worked in the behavioral healthcare field since 2009.  In 2015, she began working for Futures Recovery Healthcare as the Outreach and Community Liaison.  Futures is a residential treatment center in Tequesta, Florida providing detoxification, residential, and aftercare services for families and individuals with substance use and co-occurring disorders.  In her free time, Laura enjoys spending time with family, friends, and neighbors, enjoying their boat on the Jupiter waterways, exercise, cooking, and creative projects.