Quarantine Drinking: Experts Warn Against Too Many Virtual Happy Hours

With drinkslike the Quarantini, many people are toasting to their colleagues and friendsand de-stressing from everything COVID-19 through virtual happy hours. It mayseem like innocent fun, but physicians warn that turning to alcohol ― whether toescape or feel good ―can lead to a host of physical and mental problems, includingalcohol dependence and depression.

“Socialization through Zoom happy hours can be fun and beneficial,” said  Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., deputy medical director, chief of cardiology and certified lipid specialist at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “The concern, however, can include a sense of pressure to participate and drinking more than just a drink or two. And the fun may be fleeting.”

Typically,alcohol consumption spikes during holidays and times of crisis. DuringCOVID-19, online alcohol orders have risen by nearly 30 percent, and curbsidepick-up, drinks-to-go and bar drink kits make it easy to sip your favoritebeer, wine or cocktail at home in isolation or with groups in virtual parties.

The WorldHealth Organization (WHO) has said it is best to avoid alcohol altogetherduring the pandemic because it can undermine your immune system and evenincrease your risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of thecauses of death from COVID-19. In addition, they stress that alcohol can impairthinking and lead to risk-taking behavior, negatively affect every organ of thebody and is closely linked with violence.

If youchoose to drink, be wary. A study by the British Medical Journal showed thatbetween 1999 and 2016, the death rate of young adults ages 25-34 fromalcohol-related liver disease nearly tripled. Alcohol-related deaths are thethird leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing some 85,000people annually, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Even amongotherwise healthy people, “alcohol can have deleterious effects,” Dr. Fialkowsaid. “It can cause a poor night’s sleep, raise blood pressure and blood sugarand cause long-term bad health consequences.” Alcohol is known to be a riskfactor for certain cancers, and if you are pregnant, can harm the fetus.Alcohol does not destroy the coronavirus.

There ismuch debate over what is considered a healthy amount of alcohol. Someorganizations, such as the WHO, say no amount is safe. Dr. Fialkow says ageneral guideline is no more than 1-3 drinks daily (or under 7 drinks a week) fora woman and 1-4 daily (or under 14 drinks a week) for a man. Anything abovethese numbers is considered heavy alcohol use. “There should be no allowancefor more alcohol during a crisis than social drinking otherwise,” he said.

Those whohave addictive tendencies need to be especially mindful. “Know yourself. If youhave a family history or a personal history of alcohol abuse, stay away,” Dr.Fialkow said. “If you find you are craving alcohol or desire it during the day,stay away and seek help if necessary.”

As theCOVID-19 pandemic continues, many addiction treatment programs, support groupsand mental health crisis centers are reporting an uptick in calls. If you thinkyou may have a problem, talk to your primary care physician or another healthprofessional and/or contact one of the hotlines.

Healthy waysto cope with stress include sticking to a routine, exercising daily, talkingwalks outside, eating healthy and natural foods and getting a good night’ssleep.

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