In these times of the Quarantini and Zoom happy hours, I thought it would be worthwhile to look into potential effects of alcohol consumption on well-being in these COVID-19 times. I asked this question of Google – and got over 600,000 hits! Clearly this is on a lot of people’s minds!! In fact, early on there was a surge of posts claiming that drinking alcohol was actually protective against the virus. After all – the key ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol – so by extension….this might make sense?? Definitely not!!! And thankfully, there have been numerous articles – including from the World Health Organization (WHO) completely debunking this myth. However, liquor stores/distributors were declared essential businesses in the first days of our national shutdown and in March liquor sales increased by more than 55%, while online liquor sales were up by 250%. Restaurants – not yet open for dining – are offering home delivery and carryout cocktails. Clearly, alcohol consumption is up now- as has occurred during previous stressful times such as post 9/11 or after Katrina or Hurricane Sandy. It is not uncommon to turn to drinking for stress relief and our now virtual social interaction. Last Saturday SNL even did a skit entitled Let Kids Drink as a way of relieving some of the stresses of families being isolated together. But what are the dangers here? Long term follow-up studies 3 years after 9/11 and the other stressful events have shown significant increases in alcohol and substance dependence in the general population – and we are likely to be suffering the stress of the current situation far longer than these previous events. And rather than being in any way “protective” heavy alcohol use impairs the immune system and especially lung function, causing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) which is a major component of COVID-19. Alcohol consumption also negatively impacts sleep duration and quality. So at a time when it seems tempting to have that evening cocktail or wine to induce sleep, the net effect is interrupted and less restorative sleep.
So what are we to do? For most of us – total abstinence is unrealistic – especially now. The question is how to incorporate some alcohol into a healthy lifestyle – and especially now! The guidelines for healthy alcohol consumption continue to stress 1 drink/day for women and 2 for men and not to exceed twice that amount in any given setting. One way of doing that is to either dilute the alcohol in each drink by making spritzers. This works for wine (inexpensive!!) as well as either sweet or dry vermouth. Or alternate a full glass of water with your drink. Add the water/seltzer to your glass rather than refilling! Try to schedule a couple of alcohol-free days/week. And consider non-alcoholic options. Here are links to a couple of my favorites:
Or check out any number of “mocktails”! One problem I have always had with these drinks is the high level of what is called simple syrup – basically liquid sugar and makes the drinks has high in sugar and calories as the regular cocktails. If you are ok with the taste of Stevia (or Stevia and Monkfruit) as non-caloric sweeteners try making your own 0 calorie syrup:
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add 2 Tbs of stevia, simmer until completely dissolved. Let it cool and then refrigerate.