Considerations for Alcohol Use - 2021
From the stress of a global pandemic to the fight against systemic racism and violence against people of color and trans people, everything that has happened in the past couple of years creates a new context for our lives. Because of this context, extra care should be taken around the use of alcohol.
In addition to the risks to academic and athletic performance, sleep, and long-term health that are already present when drinking, there’s plenty of evidence that alcohol use can:
- increase risks to health and safety from contagious diseases
- increase the likelihood of creating unsafe environments for people of marginalized identities, including the commission of microaggressions by people who are intoxicated
- increase stress and impact mental health
There is even the possibility that alcohol use may increase in 2021, as a coping mechanism. Getting through this year is difficult already, and alcohol use may not be the most helpful way to cope with the stress and negative emotions that might arise.
It’s best right now to avoid alcohol altogether so that you do not increase these risks and you can better cope with these ongoing stressors. If you do drink, keep your drinking to a minimum and avoid getting intoxicated.
Alcohol Weakens Your Immune System
While there’s very little research so far on the specific effects of alcohol use on the illness caused by the coronavirus, much research has shown that alcohol effects the immune system making you more susceptible to illness in general:
- Alcohol in the body at the time of exposure to a pathogen can impair the immediate immune response making it easier for an infection to develop.
- Heavy drinking has also been shown to suppress the ability to fend off respiratory viruses.
- Alcohol can also cause inflammation further weakening the immune system.
- Alcohol also impairs sleep which can, in turn, impair your immune system further.
For this reason, the evidence suggests that there is no absolutely safe amount of alcohol to consume when it comes to your immune system. Especially if you are immunocompromised or have another preexisting condition, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether to keep your immune system functioning at its best. If you choose to drink, consuming less alcohol is better.
Alcohol Impairs Your Ability to Protect Yourself and Others from Contagious Diseases
Alcohol impairs your judgement and decision-making, increasing the likelihood that you won’t be able to maintain protective behaviors, like wearing face coverings, when needed.
- Social gatherings paired with alcohol are among the highest risk for spread of illnesses like COVID. You can’t wear a face covering and drink at the same time, and the talking loudly and/or singing that are frequently part of such gatherings have been found to increase the risk of spreading illnesses like COVID.
- Playing drinking games increases all these risks, especially if you are in-person and sharing cups.
If you find it difficult to socialize without alcohol and would like to talk with someone about strategies for connecting to others without substances, connect with CPS.
Alcohol Contributes to an Unsafe Environment
Students have expressed how they feel less safe around other students when people are drinking due to drunk people speaking or behaving in oppressive ways.
- Alcohol is frequently a factor in hate crimes and bias motivated incidents on college and university campuses.
- In UMatter’s 2019 survey, students regularly report experiencing racist, sexist or homophobic language used against them by students who have been drinking.
Living through last year and this year is difficult for all of us. Increased anxiety, loneliness, depression, sleep disturbances, racial trauma, and loss all negatively impact our mental states and increase our stress. Contrary to popular thought, drinking alcohol is not a helpful coping mechanism and it can negatively impact your mental health.
- Alcohol may temporarily dampen the brain’s and body’s response to stress, but feelings of stress and anxiety return at greater levels once the alcohol clears the body.
- Alcohol is a depressant that can increase the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Alcohol interacts with medications for depression and anxiety lessening their effectiveness and increasing their side effects.
You can find resources and strategies for managing stress and your mental health at Connecting Matters.
The stress and difficulties of this time and of increased isolation may lead some people to consume more alcohol and other substances than they usually would. This increased use elevates risks of both the pandemic and overconsumption of alcohol, including the risk for alcohol use disorder.
- If you are finding yourself increasing your drinking to cope, there are resources available to you.
- If you are concerned about someone else’s increased isolation and/or alcohol or other substance use, you can find strategies and resources here.
Other Alcohol Considerations for this time
For some people, alcohol can stimulate participation in “social smoking/vaping.” Because smoking is associated with more severe COVID, avoid smoking altogether. There is also evidence that vaping is associated with COVID. If alcohol is a cue for smoking or vaping for you, avoid alcohol as well. Sharing devices can also share coronavirus as well as other viruses and bacteria.
Consumption of alcohol will not destroy the virus in inhaled air or in the body. Drinking alcohol will not disinfect your mouth or throat and will not give you any kind of protection against COVID (WHO, 2020). In fact, as stated above, alcohol increases risks for the transmission of the virus as well the risk for illness from the virus.