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Sharp Health News

The link between alcohol and COVID-19

May 12, 2020

The link between alcohol and COVID-19

When cities, counties and states began announcing stay-at-home orders and restricting travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans began stockpiling alcohol — so much so, that there was a 55% spike in alcohol sales reported in the U.S. during the third week of March.

Aside from the notion of hoarding, there are other factors weighing into this sudden spike in alcohol sales and subsequent consumption.

“The most likely reason is that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety, fear and uncertainty in our society,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “People are trying to cope with financial, work and even family-related stressors. The social isolation and physical distancing that it has necessitated is also very trying for most people.”

Dr. Olulade has observed this firsthand from talking with her patients.

“Quite a few of my patients have told me that they are drinking more during the pandemic,” she says. “They cite a number of factors: boredom from being socially isolated, anxiety, restlessness, fear and even sadness. Some tell me that they are drinking during virtual happy hours with friends and because they don’t have to worry about driving, they are drinking more than they typically would.”

Alcohol and the immune system
Dr. Olulade urges limiting alcohol consumption to the recommended amounts — no more than one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men. She says increased drinking can have a negative impact on one’s health and immune system as it relates to the coronavirus.

“The immune system is how the body fights off harmful bacteria and viruses, and studies have shown that excessive alcohol use can decrease its functionality,” says Dr. Olulade. “This can lead to an increased susceptibility to infections such as pneumonia and other lung diseases. It can reduce the amount of white blood cells, which defend the body against infection.”

So, what steps can be taken to deter excessive alcohol use during the pandemic?

“Maintaining good mental health is especially important during this time,” says Dr. Olulade. “There has been much focus on the physical signs and symptoms of COVID-19, but anxiety and depression have either been triggered or worsened as well. Millions of people live alone and may not be physically close to family and friends. Maintaining those connections with family and friends is crucial. It’s important to find other ways to communicate, such as virtually through FaceTime and Zoom.”

Dr. Olulade adds that finding ways to distract the brain — such as reading a book, exercising, gardening or even adopting a pet — can be very beneficial. It’s also important to get a good night’s sleep and avoid excessive news consumption.

Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your use of alcohol or other substances. Sharp McDonald Center and Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital provide substance use programs to help define a recovery path that works best for you.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Olulade about the use of alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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