By Susanna Penfield | Illustration courtesy of the Wellness Resource Center
“Alcohol kills coronavirus:”
This tagline, popularized in meme form underscoring an image of CNN lead political news anchor Wolf Blitzer, has recently become rampant in internet threads and social media platforms, accompanying images of extreme binge drinking in the context of quarantine.
The comment, originally a reference to the CDC recommendation that individuals use 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer, has become a staple of COVID-19 humor. While it is important to acknowledge the role memes and other forms of satirical commentary play in providing an outlet for collective anxiety, those which center around alcohol, and binge drinking in particular, not only make light of nuanced and dangerous tendencies, but in doing so have contributed to and encouraged increased consumption nationwide.
In many states, officials have declared liquor stores “essential” and therefore they have remained open to the public. This decision, in part, is due to valid concerns that without access to alcohol, addicts could go into withdrawal and burden an already over-strained healthcare system. However, the sheer intensity of response in states which initially deemed liquor “non-essential” points to a more troubling phenomenon.
Denver experienced this acutely following Mayor Michael Hancock’s late March announcement that liquor stores would close across the city in an attempt to slow virus spread. Following his suggestion that residents buy alcohol “while they still could,” Denverites swarmed neighborhood shops, violating social distancing requirements and overwhelming store capacities. Just hours later, Hancock reversed the statement, saying that liquor stores “with extreme physical distancing in place” would be exempt from the mandated citywide closure of non-essential businesses. Many, if not most, of those who rejoiced at this decision are not those who would experience serious symptoms of withdrawal without it.
Images and narratives that allow alcohol to be a humorous, and acceptable, quarantine coping mechanism contribute to the public panic that follows any threat to deny its purchase. This panic itself could lead many to over-indulge in both buying and consuming liquor. Meanwhile, many individuals are in recovery during this period and are facing unique challenges that might cause old habits to resurface. The heightened stress, anxiety, loneliness, and boredom of isolation are triggers that often increase the urge to drink. Simultaneously, social distancing interrupts the support systems and routines that such individuals might have relied on to maintain sobriety.
If you find yourself drinking out of stress, boredom, or any of the other factors listed above, consider taking a step back. Decide whether this choice is intentional or if there are other activities that could be of equal distraction/satisfaction. And if you are struggling to maintain distance from alcohol during this time, know that there are online resources.
SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has a National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) that serves as a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
Chris Walters, Health Educator and Substance Abuse Specialist in the Wellness Resource Center, is available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org as are counselors at the Colorado College Counseling Center, who can be reached by emailing email@example.com or calling 719-389-6093.
Alcohol does not kill coronavirus, but it can kill other aspects of our health — both mental and physical. Take precautions to ensure that it does not.