April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time to spread awareness around the disease of alcoholism and encourage those who are struggling with it to reach out for help. This year it is more important than ever, as alcohol sales have been rapidly increasing due to the pandemic. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, bars and liquor stores pivoted from in-person sales to at-home delivery, making alcohol more easily accessible without requiring people to leave their homes.  

People quarantining at home also found new ways to drink with friends while still social distancing. Zoom happy hours became the newest way to unwind after a long day. However, these changes have served to increase and even normalize alcohol abuse. As a result, it isn’t always easy to tell when you’ve gone from just having one too many drinks to having a full-blown problem. 

Recognizing That Your Drinking Is A Problem

During times of uncertainty and stress, people turn to alcohol as a way to relax and cope. The pandemic was the perfect recipe to put more people at risk for alcoholism. They were now trapped at home, many without jobs, and nothing much better to do than drink.

If you are still able to work, socialize with friends, and do other day-to-day activities while drinking, it may be more difficult to recognize if your drinking has reached unhealthy levels. When I was still drinking, I never missed a day of work, I still met up with friends, and I was even able to go out into public while drunk without anyone knowing that I had been drinking all day long. 

I thought that because I hadn’t hit that stereotypical “rock-bottom” that you hear so many people in recovery talk about, I wasn’t really an alcoholic. In reality, my low point just looked different from other people’s experiences. For me, the early signs were when my hangovers wouldn’t go away and I started to have unexplained panic attacks. 

Drinking Even After Happy Hour Is Over

Even if you haven’t quite reached a low point yet, recognizing signs that a problem is about to start will make you more aware of it. This will enable you to seek out help sooner. A very common sign that your drinking has reached unhealthy levels is drinking alone. This could be either “pre-gaming” or drinking before your scheduled social drinks. It could also be continuing to drink even after everyone has left or signed off the Zoom call. 

Another thing to look out for is the quantity of alcohol you are drinking. It seems that nowadays a glass of wine easily turns into a full bottle. While this may not seem like a lot, the CDC recommends no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and no more than two a day for men. At 5 glasses per bottle of wine, that’s already 5x the daily recommended amount. 

It is not uncommon to hear people joke about how they can’t get by without their nightly bottle of wine. There are thousands of memes on the internet that joke and normalize drinking wine in excess. This may mislead you to think, “well everyone is doing it, so I must not be that bad” especially if you’re able to get up and function the next morning. 

Hangovers That Seem Never Ending

Another sign that you’re developing a drinking problem is worsening hangovers. You might start to find you stay sluggish for longer or that your headache just won’t go away until you have your first drink of the day. Anxiety will also seem to happen more frequently and you won’t be able to relax until it’s time for happy hour again. This is a sign of developing alcohol dependence.

Hangovers are a result of the body trying to clear out toxins from the night before. If you’re finding that you’re getting a hangover every day or that they are lasting until you get your next cocktail, that’s a sign you are drinking an unhealthy amount of alcohol. 

Using Alcohol To Cope With Stress 

Reaching for a drink every time something stressful happens is another sign that you are abusing alcohol. This behavior of using alcohol for comfort quickly becomes habit-forming, as it triggers the reward center in your brain. This means that when you feel emotional distress, your first instinct will be to reach for the bottle. 

In today’s world, we are being constantly inundated with stress. Between the horrible stories on the news, the fear of getting a deadly virus, and lack of job security, it is no wonder people are reporting higher levels of stress than ever. It is reported that 12% of adults increased their alcohol consumption because of COVID-19 related stress.  This practice of using alcohol to cope with stress quickly leads to addiction. 

Getting Help For Alcohol Abuse

Many people are in denial about their alcohol abuse because they are still considered “high-functioning”. The high-functioning alcoholic typically thinks their excessive drinking is acceptable because they still get their day-to-day responsibilities done. 

However, just because you are able to function while drinking excessively, that does not mean it is healthy. If you are drinking excessively and on a regular basis, this is a sign you should seek help. Those feelings of anxiety and getting sick after a night of drinking are all signs that your drinking has become a problem. 

Start by speaking with your doctor, they will be able to fully assess you. Getting help early on will allow you to get control of the situation before your drinking truly gets out of hand.