Myths and Facts About Alcohol Consumption and COVID-19

Alcohol and COVID-19 have some not-so-positive interactions.

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It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that alcohol sales increased during the pandemic. Some people turned to alcohol in attempts to soothe their COVID-19 stress, while others may have imbibed based on untrue myths about alcohol and COVID-19.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism compared per capita sales from 2020, beginning in March, to the same time period in 2017, 2018, and 2019. In March 2020—as many states were just flirting with the idea of stay-at-home orders—Kentucky saw a 25 percent increase in wine sales. Similarly, Alaska, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, and Virginia all had an increase above 20 percent in the sale of spirits.

Alcohol and COVID-19: Knowing the Facts

So what are the consequences of increased alcohol consumption for months at a time? And what are the rumors about alcohol and COVID-19 that are fueling some of these trends?

FACT: Alcohol makes it harder to stick to social distancing guidelines

At various times during the pandemic, some states have enacted curfews or required bars and restaurants to close at 10 PM. That’s because under the influence, people are more likely to engage in risky behaviors with people they don’t live with. The more you drink, the more likely you are to “throw caution to the wind” and start hugging and removing masks, for example.

MYTH: Alcohol helps deal with stress

In reality, alcohol only blunts feelings of stress temporarily. Initially, you get that “ahhh” feeling that comes after a few sips of wine. However, it tends to worsen stress, anxiety, and depression in the long run. Additionally, it can harm sleep quality, which may further worsen mood the next day.

Of course, if alcohol consumption continues to increase, it can lead to alcohol use disorder. This can be devastating to both physical and mental health, and it may ultimately worsen stress levels.

FACT: Excessive alcohol use weakens your immune system

Chronic, excessive alcohol use may affect your ability to fight off infections. For this reason, chronic alcohol use may actually make you more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.

MYTH: Alcohol helps prevent or treat COVID-19

Nope—this myth stems from the fact that hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes often contain alcohol as an antimicrobial agent. These products may help eliminate germs on your skin and surfaces, but drinking alcohol is not thought to protect you against coronavirus particles. As mentioned before, it may instead make you more vulnerable.

Fact: Alcohol has negative interactions with many medicines—including antidepressants

Alcohol can alter the effectiveness of antidepressants (as well as some antibiotics). Thus, if you’re drinking to ease the symptoms of a mental illness during COVID-19, you might be sabotaging your treatment. (Learn more about dealing with a mental illness during the pandemic here.)

Additionally, alcohol may intensify side effects of antidepressants, such as drowsiness. This may contribute to overall negative well being and low mood.

Struggling with stress during COVID-19—or feel your drinking is out of control? Reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional. They can help you find healthy ways to cope with stress, tweak your medication regimen, or find other ways to navigate this difficult time.