The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been the main topic of conversation on television, social media, and even in our own homes over the last few months. As more cases have come to light across the U.S., the pandemic has affected every American, causing widespread panic and uncertainty in this trying time.
It’s natural for humanity to feel vulnerable at a time like this, to be afraid of the unknown, to discuss our concerns, and look to others for support. Yet, if you’re currently struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), this pandemic brings to the surface a unique set of concerns of its own. An AUD is a chronic, relapsing disease that is diagnosed based on an individual meeting a certain set of criteria within a 12-month period.
Regardless of the amount of alcohol a person consumes though, since alcohol consumption can weaken our immune systems over time, any person with problematic drinking behaviors can be amongst the most vulnerable populations for getting COVID-19. While flattening the curve is the nation’s priority right now, we understand that the unique needs of an individual battling alcoholism are equally as urgent—maybe even more so during this time of social distancing and home quarantines.
How COVID-19 Affects Those Struggling With Alcoholism
With the threat of COVID-19, a person with problematic drinking behaviors may face:
- Loneliness; this can be brought on by the need for social distancing and being instructed to remain in our homes.
- An alcohol-related decrease in immune system health and the potential for increased susceptibility to certain infectious processes.
- Drastically restricted access to alcohol, which may lead to symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
During this time, it’s important to acknowledge and understand these challenges that you may face in order to avoid using alcohol to self-medicate, potentially increasing certain COVID-19 related risks.
A Weakened Immune System
The coronavirus family of viruses, and the human illnesses associated with them—for example, respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases (e.g., MERS, SARS)—are not new to us. COVID-19, however, is a new virus whose symptoms may range from mild to severe, with the potential for more serious (and in some cases, lethal) illness in people over 65+ as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems. Currently around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and needs immediate medical attention.
Over the years, studies have shown a clear association between excessive alcohol consumption and a weakened immune system, specifically when it comes to a person’s susceptibility to pneumonia. Because of this, those diagnosed with AUD may be among a particularly vulnerable population. Yet, even if you think you may have your drinking under control, research shows that even non-chronic alcohol drinkers can still face negative health consequences. In fact, acute binge drinking also compromises the immune system.
Alcohol abuse can also lead to various issues with your cardiopulmonary system (i.e., heart and lungs). In times like these, our bodies need to function at their highest levels in order to fight off the symptoms of this virus and decrease the potential harm of COVID-19. But care must be taken, even in just getting sober. Although you may be tempted to quit alcohol use altogether until a vaccine for the coronavirus arrives, if you’ve developed a physical dependence on it, you may face serious or life-threatening symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
In order to keep individuals as comfortable and as safe as possible, a medical detox is an essential first step in combating alcoholism. Although alcoholism is a chronic, relapsing disease, with professional treatment and ongoing recovery efforts, this disease may be effectively managed. Treatment for problematic alcohol consumption can slow down, stop, or altogether reverse many otherwise progressive, drinking-related health issues.