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Drinking more during the coronavirus pandemic? You're not alone

A study on geotagged Twitter data showed Texans have referenced drinking more than any other state during the pandemic. But how much drinking is too much?

HOUSTON — Editor's note: The attached video originally aired on April 4.

Liquor stores are open, restaurants are selling mixed drinks to-go and – let’s face it – life is pretty stressful right now.

People are worried about the coronavirus, money, jobs and juggling more than usual.

Add to that boredom and being separated from family and friends, and many people find themselves drinking more than usual.

A study on geotagged Twitter data showed Texans have referenced drinking more than any other state during the pandemic.

Virtual happy hours have become a popular way to connect with friends and family. 

And the lack of structure while working from home is throwing some off-balance.

“What the American workplace did for most people was provide structure to their day and organize their time, and in the absence of that, people who normally would have started drinking at 5 p.m. don’t have the structure or accountability to keep them from drinking earlier and earlier in the day,” said Robert Hilliker, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Chemical Dependency Counselor and co-founder of Ethos Behavioral Health Group.

RELATED: 'Retail to-go' does not mean mixed drinks to-go, TABC says

RELATED: WHO: Drinking alcohol can make coronavirus worse, consumption should be limited

 Moderate drinking vs. binge drinking

How much is too much and how do you know when you have a problem?

Hilliker said the benchmarks for moderate drinking vary between sexes because of biological differences; women and men metabolize alcohol differently.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two for men.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) definition of binge drinking as five or more alcoholic drinks for males or four or more drinks for females, on the same occasion, on at least 1 day in the past month.
  • Heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking on 5 or more days during the past month.

“Another important distinction here is that we’re talking about a standard drink, which is 1.5 ounces of liquor, 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine,” Hilliker specified. “When you’re a home bartender, you can tend to create a heavy pour. A tumbler full of vodka with a splash of orange juice is not one drink.”

Hilliker said we need to be honest with ourselves about what feels like too much for us.

The Signs and Symptoms

There are three factors that could indicate someone has a problem.

“The biggest physical signs we look for are tolerance and withdrawal,” Hilliker said.

  1. Having a high tolerance means it takes more alcohol to achieve the desired effect.
  2. Withdrawal is any physical symptom associated with not drinking, even a slight hand tremor.
  3. “The third thing to look for is the mindset of, ‘I need a drink to change the way I feel.’ We often refer to that as craving,”Hilliker explained. “Tolerance, withdrawal and craving are the big physical factors.”

RELATED: Alcohol sales skyrocketing around Texas

Other Ways to Cope

When people are bored, they’re looking for stimulation, whether it’s mental, emotional or relational. Hilliker recommends looking for ways to connect with others, and to connect with yourself.

“That looks different for everyone, but connecting with yourself never looks like zoning out or checking out, it looks like zoning in,” he said.

Hilliker suggests meditation, exercise or yoga.

For intellectual stimulation, he says it’s a great time to pick up a good book, take up new hobbies or develop new skills.

Hilliker notes that a lot of people are turning to virtual happy hours for connection and good times. He encourages people to participate, simply passing on the consumption of alcohol.

“Don’t forego connection because you’re worried about drinking. Go ahead and join friends for a virtual happy hour, but do it with a mocktail,” he recommends.

How To Get Help

If you’re past the point of sticking to moderation, Hilliker says, it’s important that you do not try to quit on your own right away.

“This might run counter to what people think,” he said, “but many people don’t realize that withdrawing from alcohol can be very dangerous.”

He notes that quitting cold turkey can put someone at risk of great health consequences, such as having a seizure, so the best thing to do is consult a healthcare professional, particularly someone with training. A therapist with an addiction background could be a good option because they can assess what the appropriate level of care is for you.

“Most people with any kind of advanced problem with alcohol need a tapered detox managed by a healthcare professional in order to stop safely, or they place themselves at great risk,” Hilliker said.

The Ethos family of healing centers can provide care for individuals with substance abuse and mental health issues. The Lovett Center in Montrose offers regular and intensive therapy both on-site and virtually while the Prairie Recovery Center in Round Top is a residential addiction treatment center, while 

“Reach out to us,” Hilliker concludes. “We understand first-hand the challenges that come with substance addiction, and we’re here to help.”

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