Now that we have over a collective month of social distancing and staying inside under our belts, many individuals and organizations across the country are beginning to grow restless and demanding that local government officials reopen the economy so that people can head back to work. Protests have been organized in numerous states, full of sign-bearing men and women that share sentiments like, “We need a haircut,” and, “There’s nothing to fear.” The truth of the matter is that social distancing measures and health official guidelines have actually been working, which is why the number of COVID-19 cases has remained somewhat stagnant for the past week or so. Angry protesters that gather, unmasked, in huge groups outside of city halls and on public playgrounds will likely set this progress back if they continue congregating. Part of the reasoning behind the protests is the widespread misinformation circulating mainstream media. Recently, I have come across innumerous articles detailing the significant economic failure that Americans would inevitably face if we all continue listening to elected health officials and epidemiologists – or as some put it, “fear mongers” and “doctors hired on by major corporations to spread misinformation.”
No doubt that this is a scary and uncertain time for all of us, and it can be exceptionally difficult to pinpoint which new sources are valid and which are prone to fake news and sensationalism. What is very important now – as many places consider a slow reopening and others vow to stay the course – is that we all think on a smaller scale. While fighting on Facebook and attempting to change the opinions of others is always a fruitless endeavor, we can start honing in on ourselves and our own communities. Ask yourself, “What can I do to help keep my community members safe?” Ask yourself, “What can I do to keep myself safe?”
Alcohol and COVID-19
If you are in recovery for drug addiction or alcoholism, you have had to adjust to the current state of things already, scouting out Zoom Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and staying connected and sane in every way possible. Now that people seem to be divided on what step to take next, things might be even more stressful and feel even more unstable than they did beforehand. Maybe your employer is already considering bringing you back to work after an extended furlough. Maybe you are of the belief that the economy should be reopened, or maybe you are of the belief that in order to prevent a second wave of cases, the country should work together and heed the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Regardless of where you currently stand as far as all of that goes, it is crucial that you’re still prioritizing your recovery. While it’s easy to focus on other things right now (it might seem like there is an endless parade of other things to worry about), you must make sure that your recovery is always coming first. If you don’t have your sobriety, you don’t have your health, and if you don’t have your health then you really have nothing at all.
Aside from the misinformation surrounding the virus itself and the reopening of the economy, there is a lot of other misinformation circulating social media platforms and unreliable news outlets. One of the most interesting “theories” – and one that has already caused a great deal of damage to those in recovery – is the misguided belief that alcohol consumption can actually prevent someone from becoming infected.
Alcohol and the Human Body
Before we dive headfirst into debunking this ridiculous myth, let’s revisit some general facts that pertain to alcohol consumption and the human body. First of all, as a recovering addict or alcoholic, keep in mind that no mood or mind altering substance can ever be used safely. Beyond that, the following is true of alcohol:
- Alcohol consumption has both short and long-term effects on every single organ within the human body. Every alcoholic beverage consumed puts greater strain on the body as a whole, ultimately weakening the immune system and compromising the function of essential organs.
- Even when consumed in very small amounts, alcohol has been linked to numerous kinds of cancer. There is no “safe limit” when it comes to drinking.
- Alcohol reduces the functioning of the immune system and makes it far more difficult for the body to fight infectious diseases.
- Heavy drinking contributes to the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome, one of the predominant symptoms of severe coronavirus cases.
- Drinking lowers inhibitions, making it more difficult to avoid risk-taking behavior and more difficult to protect yourself in basic ways (remembering to wash your hands, wear a mask, etc.).
The WHO is actually encouraging everyone to avoid alcohol altogether, seeing as it compromises the immune system. Unfortunately, there are many individuals who are perpetuating the spread of false information, including the harshly misguided idea that drinking “kills” the virus, and that consuming large quantities of alcohol will “cleanse the system.” It might sound crazy to us – but here are some of the widespread myths that are still in circulation.
Myth VS. Fact
Myth: Alcohol stimulates the immune system.
Fact: Alcohol has both short and long-term negative effects on the immune system. Those that consume alcohol are at greater risk of contracting infectious disease.
Myth: Because alcohol is a disinfectant, it has the power to kill the virus if you are exposed to it.
Fact: At 60 percent, alcohol-based solutions have the power to disinfect the skin. Consuming alcohol negates its disinfectant properties. Furthermore, alcohol will actually increase health risks if a person was to be exposed to or contract the virus.
Myth: Drinking strong alcohol (liquor) will kill the virus if it is inhaled through the air.
Fact: Alcohol consumption has no ability to disinfect or protect your mouth or throat; in fact, alcohol does not protect against the coronavirus in any way, shape or form.
The WHO offers the following suggestions:
- Avoid alcohol entirely, seeing as it weakens the immune system.
- Stay sober so that you can act quickly when necessary, and maintain a clear head so that you can actively protect yourself and protect those in your community.
- Because alcohol and smoking tend to go hand-in-hand for many, and smoking weakens the lungs and the immune system as a whole, it is best to avoid alcohol.
- Because alcohol lowers inhibitions, alcohol consumption will make it more difficult to abide by social distancing guidelines.
- Do what you can to implement and stick by a daily routine that does not involve alcohol consumption. Go for a walk every afternoon, or take an online yoga class.
Staying Sober – Staying Focused
Amidst the current state of things, it can be difficult to stay focused on recovery and instead fall victim to engaging in lengthy Facebook arguments revolving around the rapid spread of misinformation. Over the course of the next week, try focusing on the things that you CAN control – like your own recovery, and your ability to help those that might be struggling to stay sober. Remind yourself that picking up a drink will always make matters worse – never better. Do your own research on the topic of alcohol and COVID-19, and share your findings with those who might still believe in some of the circulating myths. Do what you can to protect yourself and those in your community, and if you are actively struggling with an alcohol-related disorder and need help to quit, please reach out to us today.