In many states, during the coronavirus outbreak, businesses have been ordered to close after being deemed non-essential. Liquor stores, however, have been deemed essential and remain open. This can either be seen as a ridiculous idea or a necessary evil. Because none of us have ever experienced such a drastic situation before, we don’t have a lot of evidence to decide if keeping liquor stores open will lead to more drinking, and, in some cases, an increase in alcoholic drinking.
Many people use alcohol to take the proverbial edge off, and it seems these days everybody is on edge and for good reasons. I worry that people will resort to drinking because of stress, boredom, and this (collective) trauma. What might seem like an innocent thing to do might turn some of the drinkers into habitual users. Paradoxically it is not the alcohol itself that causes some of us to drink to excess—it can be genetics or environment (stress and/or a traumatizing experience or several traumas that accumulate and affect our mental health) that predisposes people to drink. Happy, relaxed people with healthy routines don’t tend to reach out for external stimuli to help them deal. They can exist in their realities and don’t need to check out.
Right now, an unprecedented number of us might just want to “check out.” I know people who have been dealing with life just fine, who are considered mentally sound, are now feeling the kind of anxiety and depression never experienced before. People who spent their lives working with others are suddenly told they can’t go back to work and can’t socialize and must remain home. People are losing jobs, their relatives are getting sick, and there is no toilet paper in stores, which might make for great memes but, ultimately, is sad and somewhat humiliating. We are especially vulnerable during this time. And for those reasons, I would caution anyone against reaching for drugs to find their solace. You can ask anyone who has battled and recovered from addiction, and they will tell you that drugs are only a temporary “solution,” and, in fact, are not a solution at all, but make everything worse. I believe it’s crucial to be facing this crisis sober, and we don’t know how much more will be asked of us. So if you or someone you know is thinking about how this is truly a great reason to be “taking the edge off” with the legal, toxic drug that has been deemed “essential,” please think about how much harder this might get, and how now you really will need your wits about you.
On the other hand, I understand that keeping liquor stores open can lessen the impact of sudden withdrawals in those of us who are still alcohol dependent. Having to admit people with seizures to already overwhelmed hospitals can potentially create another medical crisis. Additionally, keeping the liquor stores open will help to avoid potential bootlegging and deaths from bad batches, and, eventually, crime. And this is an especially tricky time to get sober (for one, we can no longer meet face-to-face to support each other), so telling people to just quit won’t work. The liquor stores stay open to avoid a bigger disaster. Yet, I wouldn’t leave it at that. I think that after this is all over, we’ll have a chance to re-evaluate how important it is to take care of people suffering from addiction. I don’t know if COVID-19 is going to lead to an increase in people using drugs to deal with their trauma, but I worry it will. My hope is that if that happens, mental-health services will be deemed more essential than any cheap drug because only through attending to our mental health we can heal properly and learn to function in whatever reality throws at us.
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