Healthy Tahoe: Alcohol a double-edged sword amid COVID-19

Dr. Matt Wong

By now you’ve read the headlines, seen the changes at the grocery stores, and have probably noticed a dizzying array of thoughts whizzing by at nearly the speed of light just behind your eyeballs. These days just taking care of the basics in life can feel overwhelming.

We all have our various ways of coping with the changes COVID-19 has brought to our doorstep and how we handle that overwhelm can set us up for long-term resiliency or may undermine our health and wellbeing. Which brings us to an interesting relationship I think our town has with alcohol.

I still go into my office a few times a week to handle things that cannot be done from home. Mail, insurance responses, and filing all require me to venture through town. I’ve noticed many empty businesses, but surprisingly also some businesses that seem to be flourishing.

We’ve always had a strong appreciation for celebration and enjoyment of life in our town and with that, outlets for socializing with food and alcohol have sprouted like Mule’s Ears. With our love of fun, what does it look like to live in uncertain times?

For some it means an extended reintroduction to a double-edged relationship with alcohol. In times of true celebration and happiness, alcohol is often used to heighten our experiences — when used in moderation of course.

Yet what this pandemic has taught me, and I’m sure many others, is that perspective on behavior is quickly lost due to the overwhelm. Without the organizing effects of a job people can be prone to losing perspective on their time, their days, their obligations, and a whole host of other important factors. This can lead to additional drinking. Some people think “What’s a drink at 10 a.m. if you have nowhere to be?”

On my way to my office, I’ve noticed that a liquor establishment has seen brisk business — or at least there are consistently more cars in the parking lot and I am assuming that means brisk business. I wonder what days and evenings lacking in structure, time demand, or even hope look like for some of the patrons or for people sitting at home drinking alcohol.

Most people moderate their drinking and don’t have their lives disrupted by an occasional drink, but I also know that isn’t 100% true for every person. When the research on this period of life begins to trickle out, I fully anticipate seeing a rising trend in substance and alcohol use and abuse that coincides with early spring.

I think that many people nervously watched the coronavirus news unfold and turned to their cupboards to cope with the worry and uncertainty.

Assuming this and looking towards the future, it’s important to remember a few keys to health and happiness. First, unconsciously motivated behavior can land us in hot water some of the time and it’s probable that due to the coronavirus we may be overwhelmed and operating on instinct at times.

Second, every drink of alcohol comes with a reason. Sometimes the reason is for celebration, or enjoyment, or socializing. Sometimes the reason is to forget. To keep yourself happy and healthy it’s a good idea to know the exact reason you’re having a drink at any particular time.

If the true and honest reason is for the positive, then raise your glass and enjoy in moderation. If the true and honest reason is to forget, it could be time to ask for help.

Dr. Matt Wong is a consultant for A Balanced Life.

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