Experts: Do Not Misuse Alcohol During Pandemic

    28 September 2020

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

    In March 2020, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, many people began living under stay-at-home orders. In some areas, restaurants and bars were forced to close or had limited services. These measures were meant to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

    During those early pandemic days, something else happened: On-line sales of alcoholic drinks rose sharply. In the United States, online alcohol sales were up 234 percent compared to the same period a year ago. That information comes from the research company Nielsen.

    Victor Karpyak is a doctor and expert on drug addiction at the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. state of Minnesota. He says people have long turned to alcohol to reduce stress and forget about their problems. But he warns about overusing alcohol in difficult times. This, he says, can lead to bad results.

    His comments appear on the Mayo Clinic's website.

    Doctor Karpyak noted that during the pandemic, light alcohol use can easily become problematic. He said that if you have three or four drinks today and then three or four more tomorrow, you can quickly hit the limit of what is considered moderate.

    But what is that limit? How much alcohol is considered moderate?

    The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking this way: up to one drink a day for a woman and up to two drinks a day for a man. A drink is defined as six tenths of a fluid ounce -- or almost 18 milliliters -- of pure alcohol.

    Standard Serving Size of Alcohol (Image Courtesy of U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
    Standard Serving Size of Alcohol (Image Courtesy of U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

    However, the NIH Dietary Guidelines do not recommend that people who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason.

    Doctor Karpyak said that an increase in drinking or a pattern of drinking may be a sign of alcohol abuse and development of addiction. Alcohol addiction, he added, can affect relationships as well as the body – the whole body.

    "There is no organ or system," he said, "which is not impacted by chronic and significant alcohol use."

    Alcohol-related liver disease is perhaps the most commonly reported problem. But the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns that there are others. Studies have shown that one drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer in women. Research has also shown that alcohol misuse increases the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer.

    Doctor Karpyak, a psychiatrist, added that, "there is a lot of negative impact that long-term, significant alcohol use has on brain tissue."

    Addiction experts at the NIH say it is safest to avoid alcohol completely if you are:

    • Taking medications that mix badly with alcohol
    • Trying to control a medical condition that can be made worse by drinking
    • Under the legal age for drinking alcohol
    • Planning to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
    • Doing activities that require skill and coordination
    • Recovering from alcohol use disorder or unable to control the amount you drink
    • Pregnant or trying to become pregnant

    If you find yourself drinking alcohol at the end of a long, stressful day, you are probably not alone.

    However, health experts suggest exploring other ways to reduce stress. Call a friend. Take a walk. Do something you enjoy such as watching a movie, reading a book or listening to music.

    And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

    Deborah Balzer reported this story for the Mayo Clinic. Anna Matteo adapted the story for VOA Learning English with additional information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.


    Words in This Story

    pandemic medical noun : an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

    addiction – n. a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)

    pattern – n. something that happens in a regular and repeated way

    impact – n. to have a strong and often bad effect on

    chronic – adj. medical : continuing or occurring again and again for a long time

    significant – adj. very important

    psychiatrist – n. a doctor who treats mental or emotional disorders

    coordination – n. the ability to move different parts of your body together well or easily