The general social distancing guidelines we’ve all been following in recent weeks have now given way to an official stay-at-home order from Gov. Ralph Northam.
This order, together with the fear of exposure to COVID-19, is keeping all of us at home unless we need to go to work, get groceries or engage in other essential activities.
The situation is causing significant stress, boredom and loneliness for people regardless of their circumstances.
And many people deal with stress, boredom and loneliness by consuming alcohol.
Carilion Clinic’s Addiction Task Force has been working to monitor—and minimize—the effects of alcohol misuse and abuse on individuals, families and our communities since long before the coronavirus pandemic reached our region. They offer advice for those who consume alcohol socially as well as resources for those who are in recovery.
COVID-19 and Social Drinking
“Being home with less to do, you might be tempted to drink more out of boredom or stress,” says John Epling, M.D., a Family Medicine physician and medical director of Carilion Clinic Employee Health and Wellness.
But he warns against viewing this period as a break from responsibility and an opportunity to drink more.
“This isn’t vacation time,” he says. “It’s a new way to live our lives.”
He emphasizes that even now it is important to follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on moderate alcohol consumption:
- Women: up to 1 drink per day
- Men: up to 2 drinks per day
This is not an average over a number of days, but a maximum total per day. The CDC considers 15 or more drinks a week for men, and 8 or more drinks a week for women, to be “heavy drinking.”
How much is too much? Heavy drinking and binge drinking can increase during times of stress. Binge drinking occurs when you drink enough to bring your blood alcohol concentration level to 0.08 percent or more. This typically corresponds to 5+ drinks for men or 4+ drinks for women on a single occasion.
That amount is enough to result in a DUI if you were to drive a motor vehicle.
And it is important to note that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to worsening mental health, violence in the home, risky health behaviors and social problems, any of which make a stressful situation even worse.
And if you don’t already drink alcohol, the CDC cautions that this is not the time to start.
Dr. Epling recommends finding other things to do alone or with those in your household:
- Game night
- A walk outside
- Watching a movie
COVID-19 and Recovery
Social isolation can be even more of a challenge for people who are in recovery from alcohol or other addictions.
Regular in-person meetings can be a lifeline that supports sobriety and reinforces positive habits. With those meetings suspended for the foreseeable future, people in recovery may need more support than usual.
Carilion Clinic’s Peer Recovery program hosts four virtual community peer recovery groups each week for individuals recovering from mental health and/or substance abuse disorders.
“These groups are facilitated by certified peer recovery specialists,” says Erin Casey, who developed and manages the program. “Participants benefit from both giving and receiving support as part of a healing recovery community during this challenging time.”
Visit Carilion Clinic’s online calendar for details about the groups and how to connect with them:
- Tuesday Morning Reading and Reflection
- Medication-Assisted Recovery Anonymous
- General Recovery Skills and Support
- Spirituality and Self Care
Peer Support Line
The Peer Recovery program has also launched a non-emergency phone line staffed daily by both certified and volunteer peers.
“Anyone with mental health and substance use disorders who are lonely, bored and struggling with social isolation can call for support,” says Erin.
Non-Emergency Recovery Support Line
9 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily
Please note that this is not an emergency support line. In the event of a true emergency, dial 911 or Carilion Clinic CONNECT at 540-981-8181 or 800-284-8898.
Dr. Epling offers some additional guidance to those in recovery for making the most of each day:
- Reach out more than you usually do to sponsors or others who can help
- Structure your day: exercise, prepare and eat healthy meals and keep to a sleep schedule
- Try something new: many schools and museums are offering free virtual access, so this could be a time of renewed creativity and learning
- Lean on your peers: see below for details about Carilion Clinic’s Recovery Support Line
And finally, be patient—with yourself and with the situation.
“We’re in for a marathon, not a sprint,” says Dr. Epling, “so keep in mind your future goals, and organize your time at home to achieve those goals.”
Visit CarilionClinic.org/coronavirus for up-to-date information about our response to COVID-19. Call our Community Hotline for general questions about symptoms, resources, guidelines and more,
COVID-19 Community Hotline
Monday - Friday, 8 a.m - 5 p.m.
Do not call the Community Hotline to make appointments, or to request testing or test results. For information about COVID-19 and your personal health, talk with your primary care provider.