Individual and Community Health Risks from Alcohol
On this page, you will learn about individual and community risks from alcohol related to the health and well-being topics you care about. Consuming alcohol can:
- Increase stress and impact your mental health
- Increase the likelihood of harm to people from historically excluded identities.
- Increase risks to your health and safety from contagious diseases
Drinking alcohol also leads to increased risks to academic and athletic performance, sleep, and long-term health.
There is even the possibility that recent events may increase alcohol use as a coping mechanism. Getting through this time is difficult already, and alcohol use is not a helpful way to cope with the stress and negative emotions that might arise as alcohol can exacerbate mental health issues, increase risk-taking behavior, lower inhibitions, may be associated with violent actions, and more.
Having an occasional drink is not a cause for concern, however excessive drinking is never good for one's health, as it impacts the immune system and compromises the brain's ability to cope with stress naturally. If you do consume alcohol, check out our tips for how to do so in a way that reduces risk.
Living through times of excessive simultaneous stressors is difficult for all of us. Racial trauma, increased anxiety, loneliness, depression, sleep disturbances, 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 (a drug that slows activity in the central nervous system) 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.
- Alcohol also impairs sleep and impaired sleep can negatively impact mental health.
You can find resources and strategies for managing stress and your mental health at Connecting Matters.
The stress and difficulties of this time may lead some people to consume more alcohol and other substances than they usually would. This increased use elevates risks of 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.
Students of marginalized identities experience violence from the people around them who are drinking:
- Alcohol is frequently a factor in hate crimes and bias motivated incidents on college and university campuses.
- In UMatter’s 2022 survey, 2.1% of students responding reported experiencing racist, sexist or homophobic language used against them by students who have been drinking.
Students who commit these acts of violence and oppression are responsible for their behavior, whether or not they are under the influence of alcohol.
While there’s currently little research on the effects of how alcohol use interacts with the coronavirus, research has shown that alcohol affects 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 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, consider consuming less.
If you are in a situation where you need to practice protective behaviors, like using barrier methods during sex or wearing face coverings during an outbreak, know that alcohol impairs your judgement and decision-making, increasing the likelihood that you won’t be able to maintain these behaviors.
If you find it difficult to socialize without alcohol and would like to talk with a professional about strategies for connecting to others without substances, we welcome you to connect with Counseling and Psychological Services.
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.