Problem drinking and the pandemic — how self-medicating can lead to addiction

July 20, 2020

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.

During the pandemic, a tendency to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs can become a more widespread problem.

“Addiction can happen to anyone. It does not discriminate based on age, education or social status. As employers, family members or friends, when we see that someone we care about has a problem, the best thing we can do is recognize that their need for help is real and urgent,” said Dr. Matthew Stanley, Avera psychiatrist and clinical vice president of Avera’s behavioral health service line.

“It’s important to remember that the person ‘has’ a problem. They are not ‘the’ problem. By showing respect, care and concern, we can all help reduce the stigma that people may feel about getting help.”

Stanley shared other insights on the topic with us, including how to help those who might be dealing with addiction.

Are there signs that more people are using alcohol now or using it more?

All sources point to that as a fact, and a number of studies also show a marked increase in alcohol sales. It’s a way that people are choosing to cope with all the events that feel out of control right now.

Where is the tipping point between enjoying a drink and drinking too much?

A basic rule of thumb for men is about four drinks per setting or 14 each week. It’s three drinks per setting or seven each week for women. This level of alcohol use would be considered at-risk drinking, and it’s a quick way to self-evaluate.

Another screening tool looks at questions such as: Do you feel guilty about your drinking? Do you need a morning drink to feel better physically? Do you feel like you’re letting someone down because of your drinking? Are they concerned about it?

If you are furloughed or laid off from work or if you’re working from home, your daily structure may have fallen away. It’s easy for things to change. You might stay up later or get into bad health habits. Many people are experiencing those changes in behavior, and we’re also seeing an increase in anxiety, depression and fear. It’s widespread.

If you see someone is at the tipping point, how do you try to help them?

Avoid making it a source of conflict. Sometimes, they might be drinking more and not realize it; they may lack awareness. Talk to them about what they are feeling, and center your words in a caring conversation. Ask them how they feel and if they feel they’re having troubles. If you and your friend or loved one agree, that yes, there’s a problem, it’s a good time to get help. This may range from seeking counseling to entering an outpatient or residential treatment program.

For loved ones, there are resources out there that can help. But if it is becoming a big problem and you feel overwhelmed, especially if you’re not getting the response you hoped for from the person drinking, get some professional aid. Sometimes, a licensed counselor can help you intervene or give you strategies to cope with the situation.

Our society often sees addiction and recovery in negative terms. How does the stigma of this condition hold back people who might make good of recovery efforts?

We’ve improved the issues that go with the shame of addiction, be it to illegal drugs, alcohol or misused prescription medication. First, we have to focus on the facts that genetics or the environment in which one is born and raised can have an impact. We also have to recognize that medical care is often necessary to facilitate recovery.

Shaming can happen in a friend group, a family or at work – and when we reject the person who seeks to recover, the worst outcomes, like overdose or death, are more likely.

People facing addiction deserve the dignity and support anyone struggling with any illness would need.

We can all help by learning the facts about drug use and evidence-based treatment, and we can do so without using hurtful terms that dehumanize people who may be struggling.

What does the Avera Addiction Care Center offer?

First and foremost, we want the community to know one thing: We are here for them, regardless of the pandemic and the realities that come with it. We offer multiple levels of care, and in some ways, this might be a good time to seek help. It’s a time when awareness is higher of the fear, anxiety and depression people might be experiencing. It’s extremely common for addiction to go hand in hand with other mental health conditions. The first step is to get an assessment and see what level of care is appropriate. It’s important to take addiction seriously. It can lead to serious health concerns and even death, not to mention loss of relationships or career status.

You can call 605-504-2222 to talk to a staff member who will ask basic questions and help you understand what options may be available.

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Problem drinking and the pandemic — how self-medicating can lead to addiction

All signs point to people using alcohol to cope during the pandemic. But if it hits a tipping point, there are ways to get help.

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