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What Happens If You Can’t Stop Drinking Now that Quarantine is Lifted?

A man is sitting next to a wine bottle and glass with his hands over this face.

Six months ago, life as we know it was upended, and we have been living in an unprecedented state of uncertainty ever since. People turned to alcohol to help them feel calmer, more jovial and less worried. Then quarantine was lifted for many, but the risk of COVID-19, financial worries and back-to-school anxiety among other issues remains ever-present, and as alcohol sales and DUI arrests show, people continue to literally drown their sorrows.

Unfortunately, drinking more frequently, drinking earlier in the day, or drinking a greater volume of alcohol is a dangerous habit, especially for those who have a genetic predisposition toward substance use disorder. Alcohol can have serious short and long-term impacts on the body – with damage progressing at a faster rate for women. What seemed like an easy and available way to “take the edge off” during quarantine may have turned into dependence. If that’s the case, and you or a loved one are attempting to drink less or even quit, it’s important to take the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal seriously because it can be deadly if not managed medically. Leading signs include:

  • Mood swings. Living on an emotional rollercoaster may indicate alcohol withdrawal, which can manifest as feeling emotionally or physically uncomfortable. If someone is struggling to cut down on alcohol consumption, this may be one of the first signs that a dependence has developed. It may also be “interdose withdrawal,” where the effects begin to wear off as the body craves more alcohol.
  • Poor sleep. Often, people may perceive that alcohol helps them fall asleep. And it may initially make a difference, but the effect does not last long. One of the early signs of problem drinking is disturbed sleeping habits because the quality of sleep is poor. It can happen very quickly.
  • Poor appetite. A person’s eating habits are also an early sign of a growing dependence on alcohol. People think they don't have an appetite, but really their body is trying to absorb more alcohol from what they're taking in. When you put food in your stomach, it inhibits the absorption of alcohol. Therefore, if an individual greatly reduces his drinking, he may not feel like eating because the body is trying to get the same effect from less alcohol.

It’s been said that it takes six weeks to make a new behavior a habit, a routine that becomes a permanent part of your life. We were in lockdown since mid-March, with plenty of time for increased alcohol use to become a fully formed habit.

I do expect that many people were able to shift back to more moderate habits after the initial quarantine. However, there are others who are now realizing that their drinking has become a problem. It’s important to ask for help if it’s difficult to stop drinking, because alcohol use disorder is a progressive disease and will always get worse over time. With the right support, people can develop healthy ways cope and go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

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