The COVID-19 pandemic brought lots of uncertainty, pushing many Americans to their limits. The stress — coupled with liquor stores being deemed essential business — fueled a rise in alcohol consumption. But a full year in, it’s leading to another trend: sobriety.
"I knew that that was not going to be sustainable, to be drinking several nights a week just to sort of numb out the stress of what we were all dealing with," said Laurie Bardon Syphard.
Laurie’s pandemic story isn’t unique. Her husband began working from home, and her two kids started schooling remotely. Cue the endless jokes about drinking, just to make it through the day.
“I thought that I was having a drink at the end of the day to chill out because I had been stressed because of all of the pandemic parenting duties that have been thrown upon us. But I was actually making it worse," Bardon Syphard said.
Cutting out alcohol is a move welcomed by experts, who are sounding the alarm over the rise in drinking and the harmful effects it can have on health.
“Depression, anxiety, a lot of SI happens — suicidal ideation — and even attempts under the influence," said Anat Geva, psychiatrist at HealthOne Behavioral Health and Wellness.
One study shows a 400% increase in severe alcohol dependence between April and September of 2020, with researchers pointing to stress as a key factor. Addiction specialists say it’s not totally surprising, given that healthy coping mechanisms, like meeting with a friend or going to the gym, became unavailable.
For Laurie, support groups like the Sober Mom Squad — created during the pandemic — have been a big motivator. She also points to online sobriety communities, like This Naked Mind, which saw 90,000 people join its signature alcohol experiment since March of 2020.
"In May, we had a record alcohol experiment. That’s a 30-day challenge I run, and we had more people than we’ve ever had outside of January, which is always a record month," said Annie Grace, founder of This Naked Mind.
But, experts emphasize that everyone is different.
"One coping skill is not going to be a panacea for everyone. So what works for me may not be the same thing that works for you," said Samantha Zipp Dowd, a psychotherapist at Insight Wellness of Maryland.
As millions of Americans get vaccinated, the pandemic-induced restrictions are being lifted. But even as we return to normal, the long-term effects of binge drinking will still be there.
"We're going to have to help all those people who are now using and using more," Geva said.