By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
April 21, 2022
While life for many Americans seems to be slowly returning to normal more than two years into the Covid pandemic, rehabilitation centers across the country say they’re swamped with patients who fell prey to alcohol during the period marked by stress and social isolation.
Dr. Alta DeRoo, chief medical officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, told National Review that alcohol-use disorder is the main disease the foundation is treating, that its monthly admissions are the highest they have been in the organization’s 73-year history and that they are seeing more liver disease, more mental health issues, and more brain damage from long-term alcohol use.
Similarly, Recovery Centers of America told the magazine that the number of days people are using alcohol is on the rise as are rates of heavy drinking (five or more drinks in a sitting). RCA reported that the number of patients citing alcohol as their drug of choice has gone from 37 percent in 2016 to 66 percent this year.
DeRoo and other experts pointed to isolation as a major factor in the rise in addiction rates, as many people turned to substances to try to deal with the stress and uncertainty that have been hallmarks of the pandemic.
“There was alcohol delivered directly to the house. Some of the liquor stores were permitted to stay open and so people could drink around the clock,” DeRoo told National Review. “Before, people would have these protective measures of going in to work, people seeing that somebody may be under the influence, family visiting. But if you’re in your home, isolating and distancing from the rest of the public and you’re getting alcohol delivered to your home, then there’s nothing governing your alcohol use.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said DeRoo’s assessment echoes what he’s been telling lawmakers for years about the dangers of relaxing alcohol laws.
“As I have been contending for quite a while now, even though some lawmakers look at me as if I had two heads and were a member of the Flat Earth Society, you can’t have any semblance of responsible drinking if you don’t also have responsible drinking policies. In recent years, the General Assembly has granted almost every request of the alcohol industry, never carefully considering how their reforms could diminish public health and safety and increase alcohol related harms,” he said. “Usually, it takes years to see how a change in alcohol policy affects alcohol-related problems, but the reforms made in recent years have been so egregious that we are already seeing their negative impact and we were seeing it before the pandemic. You have to understand that North Carolina is a part of the national equation, what we’ve done here contributes to the problems nationwide.”
He pointed to two current policies that he believes have contributed to the uptick of problem drinking at home or alone: home delivery and seven-day-a-week sales.
“North Carolina law allows grocery stores like Walmart now to deliver beer and wine to your home. It’s a terrible policy that makes it easier to access alcohol and drink alone,” Creech contended. “There are now more than 100 distilleries in North Carolina. It used to be that distilleries couldn’t open during hours when the local ABC stores weren’t open. ABC stores are only open Monday through Saturday. Lawmakers changed that law and now the distilleries can be open seven days a week to sell their liquor. There is no question that all these new liquor outlets with that extra day a week for liquor sales increases dangerous consumption levels.”
Further, Creech said Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order during the pandemic that allowed for curbside cocktails — the delivery or carry-out of mixed beverages as an alternative to on-site consumption at a restaurant — also made it easier for alcohol users to become addicts.
“Only someone who is willingly blind would not admit these kinds of policies make alcohol more accessible and contribute to an increase in drinking alone at home – these policies contribute to scenarios that make for dangerous use and abuse – especially during a season in national life of considerable fear, anxiety, and even death,” Creech maintained.
A January study showed excessive drinking in the U.S. had risen by 21 percent since Covid began, and more recent research showed a 25.5 percent jump in alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic’s first year. In fact, among adults younger than 65, alcohol-related deaths actually outnumbered deaths from Covid-19 in 2020 (74,408 from alcohol-related causes; 74,075 from the virus). Plus, the rate of increase for alcohol deaths across the nation in 2020 outpaced the rate of increase of deaths from all causes, which was 16.6 percent. In North Carolina, alcohol-related deaths went up 18 percent during the pandemic’s first year.