Alcohol sales and the U.S.’s alcohol use absolutely soared last year as many people, not only faced with isolation and separation, but the worry around unemployment, business closures, lack of available services, and their decreasing mental health, looked to find a temporary release from the depression, anxiety, and stress of living during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the resulting hangover from 2020 looks to be a painful one, lasting a long, long time.
Alexa Morgenroth, Executive Director at SpringBoard Recovery, was recently interviewed by Destry Jetton on the popular local weekday TV program, “Arizona Midday,” produced here in Phoenix, Arizona by 12NEWS, about the severe increase in the use of alcohol, and the part played in this by the rising mental health issues being seen across the U.S. population.
However, before we hear Alexa’s expert thoughts on this sharp increase in the use of alcohol, let’s look at the evidence…
Alcohol Consumption Rises Sharply During U.S. Pandemic Shutdown
A newly published research study, authored by scientists at the University of Southern California (USC), has found that between April and June of last year, sales of alcoholic beverages increased by 34%, when compared to the same months in 2019. Additionally, further government studies estimate that nearly two-thirds of the nation (60.1%, to be exact) increased their use of alcohol.
The lead author of the USC study, entitled “Retail Alcohol and Tobacco Sales During COVID-19,” which also found a 13% increase in tobacco sales (virtually unheard of in recent times), Brian P. Lee, MD, MAS, hepatologist and liver transplant specialist with Keck Medicine and the USC Institute for Addiction Science, stated, “These are significant jumps, and show that the stress, boredom and loneliness caused by the pandemic… led to increased alcohol and tobacco use.”
“Drinking to cope can culminate in a cycle in which the person consumes alcohol to ease discomfort… then drinks again to reduce the misery caused by the alcohol itself.” – George F. Koob, Ph.D., Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Lee and his colleagues began the study following a noticeable rise in the number of patients at Keck Hospital (part of the USC) being admitted with alcohol-related liver diseases, such as cirrhosis or alcoholic hepatitis. When the specialists looked at hospital records, they found a massive 30% increase in these alcohol-related admissions compared to 2019.
Specifically, the researchers found that the increased sales were highest among younger adults, ethnic minorities, those with younger children, and, predictably, those with higher incomes. Furthermore, the actual figures showed an increase in the purchase of hard liquor compared to beer and wine.
Massive Rise – 41% – in Women Engaged in Heavy Drinking
All of this is highly disturbing, but one of the most worrying statistics from the various research studies surrounding U.S. alcohol consumption in 2020 was found by the eminent RAND Corporation: the first half of 2020 saw a 41% increase in the number of women who engaged in episodes of heavy drinking*.
*Heavy drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as 4 or more drinks within a couple of hours.
This is further corroborated by the USC study, which found that the rise in liquor sales was predominantly in pre-mixed cocktails – the fastest-growing alcohol category of all – with many brands more than doubling over the past year.
George F. Koob, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), responded to their report, stated, “Among those drinking more during the pandemic, many are doing so in an effort to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. While alcohol can temporarily dampen anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings, the relief is short-lived, and negative emotions tend to increase above normal when the alcohol wears off.”
Koob believes that the combination of the length of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and this widespread increase in the use of alcohol will result in more and more people being diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD): “Drinking to cope can culminate in a cycle in which the person consumes alcohol to ease discomfort, feels worse when the alcohol wears off, and then drinks again to reduce the misery caused by the alcohol itself. The pandemic has simultaneously placed a strain on mental health and removed familiar options for treatment and support that rely on in-person interactions.”
However, now that the strict protocols for health-related business services during the coronavirus pandemic are now refined and set in stone (and working well, too), it’s business as normal across the majority of drug and alcohol rehab centers around the nation, including SpringBoard Recovery in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Alexa Morgenroth Discusses Increased Alcohol Use in the U.S.
As mentioned previously, our very own Alexa Morgenroth, Executive Director at SpringBoard Recovery, was recently interviewed by Destry Jetton on the popular local weekday TV program, “Arizona Midday,” produced here in Phoenix, Arizona by 12NEWS. Their discussion in this episode focused on this sharp increase in alcohol use during the pandemic.
“We believe that every person can recover, and we push that forth with everything we do. We provide that message of hope for the individuals every day, and we show them that recovery is possible.” – Alexa Morgenroth, Executive Director at SpringBoard Recovery
After the success of Alexa’s previous appearance on the TV show, we’d thought you like to know every word spoken this time around. So, here is a full transcript of the interview, including questions, between Alexa and “Arizona Midday”:
What kind of increase have you seen in alcohol abuse due to the pandemic?
In our communities, COVID has just affected everything and everybody, not just those struggling with alcohol or other substance use disorders. Personally, we’ve seen a huge increase in calls related to alcohol abuse.
Typically, alcohol abuse is associated with those who are right now struggling at home with isolation and depression, and because alcohol is cheap, easy to access, and viewed as socially acceptable. It’s also viewed as a stress reliever.
What people don’t know is that alcohol is one of the hardest substances to detox from. It’s crazy that a legal substance can produce this much damage. If you look at statistics and other information, alcohol is a leading killer in the United States. However, it’s a preventable killer, as well.
What can people do if they recognize symptoms of alcohol abuse in themselves or someone they know?
Individuals need to understand they are not alone. So many people are struggling with this same disorder, but there are so many people who have actually recovered from something like this. If you recognize this in yourself or somebody else, ask questions, ask for help, ask for resources. They are so many resources out there that can give individuals help.
We have trained specialists available by phone every day to answer these questions. We don’t just focus on our treatment options. We focus on providing individuals with the best treatment we can in our community.
“Although recovery is hard, it can be fun and engaging, too. The other end of this journey is amazing, and we help people to get there every single day.”
If someone or someone in their family needs treatment, what options do you have for them?
SpringBoard Recovery is an outpatient treatment center focused on substance abuse and alcohol abuse, and also co-occurring disorders*. So when individuals enroll in our services, they are going to get a variety of treatment modalities.
We really focus on that individual and what makes them tick because treatment is not “one-size-fits-all,” just like addiction is not “one-size-fits-all,” so between clinical assessment, the treatment they receive the minute they get in, to equine therapy, to nutrition counseling, to CrossFit – we do kick-boxing.
*Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, are the simultaneous presence of both a substance use disorder, like AUD, and a mental health disorder, such as major depressive disorder (MDD), in the same individual. It is essential they are treated simultaneously, too.
Addiction is much more than just the use of alcohol. Alcohol is the temporary solution to an underlying issue. We have trained master clinicians who focus on substance abuse treatment. They teach individuals how to identify coping skills and how to identify triggers. They teach individuals how to set boundaries and how to have healthy communications.
We have group therapy that shows individuals they are not alone, that other people can recover and have recovered. I, myself, am in recovery, as well, so I understand how difficult and challenging this journey can be, but I also understand that there’s an amazing life at the other end.
As the Executive Director at this treatment center, we believe that every person can recover, and we push that forth with everything we do. We provide that message of hope for the individuals every day, and we show them that recovery is possible.
We show them that although recovery is hard, it can be fun and engaging, too. The other end of this journey is amazing, and we help people to get there every single day.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): “Alcohol Use in the United States” (updated March 2021)
- 12News: Arizona Midday: Alcohol & The Pandemic with SpringBoard Recovery video
- University of Southern California: “Retail Alcohol and Tobacco Sales During COVID-19” study
- Rand Corporation: “Alcohol Consumption Rises Sharply During Pandemic Shutdown” study
- Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD: “Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adults” study