During widespread stay-at-home orders, retail and online alcohol sales have spiked. Experts are concerned about the long term-effects of alcohol use during times of crisis.
The Associated Press reported that in the week ending March 21, when the earliest stay-at-home directives were introduced, retail alcohol sales rose by 55% and online sales jumped by 243%.
“We just know, looking at epidemiological data over time, that when major disasters occur in history … the consumption of alcohol goes up,” said Julia Chester, a Purdue psychology professor who researches the factors that lead to addictions and mental illness.
She said age is a strong factor in the development of alcohol consumption disorders, rendering college students particularly susceptible.
“The younger you are, the more vulnerable you are to developing substance use disorder,” she said. “In fact, a large proportion of people develop their alcohol-use disorders before the age of 21.”
Potential consequences of alcohol abuse can be impaired cognitive progress and an inability to deal with ordinary stresses of life, Chester said. In the brains of 18- to 22-year-olds, especially, alcohol’s toxic effects can halt cognitive growth.
Prolonged substance abuse can weaken the brain, she said, making it less resilient against chronic stressors.
“When you get back to reality again and you’re sober again, you’re not as able to deal with the continued onslaught of chronic daily stressors,” Chester added.
Melissa Junk, a Purdue Recreation and Wellness graduate assistant who focuses on alcohol and substance abuse prevention, said community organizations have expressed concern. Many expect rates of substance-use disorders and those in need of recovery to increase.
“Even as a person in long-term recovery from alcohol-use disorder, I am dismayed at the spike,” said Jason Padgett, the addiction services program director for Phoenix Paramedic Solutions, an emergency services provider in Lafayette.
But Padgett is confident in Lafayette’s recovery network and its ability to assist those who may have developed alcohol addictions amid the pandemic. He referred to the city’s “recovery capital” as the resources that can assist to initiate and maintain recovery.
“We have community recovery capital here and a very resilient community,” Padgett said. “I don’t think you will see that this has a very lasting effect on any population other than one that was already struggling.”
To avoid the dangers of alcohol abuse being exacerbated, students and others can participate in constructive alternatives to alcohol consumption.
“One recommendation is to make sure you stay connected,” Chester said. “Get a free Zoom account or whatever you use and just check in with your friends.”
Another important bulwark against stress and anxiety, Chester said, is physical activity.
“That’s absolutely something that not only protects your brain, it actually helps us perform better cognitively,” she said. “It can help you deal with stress and help you deal with your anxiety; it actually lowers your anxiety.”
Anyone suffering from alcohol abuse can visit the Lafayette chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous or Recovery Cafe, both of which are offering virtual meetings and programming in lieu of in-person gatherings. Also, Purdue students can contact CAPS at 765-494-6995.