How much is too much? Family doctor weighs in on drinking during the pandemic
VANCOUVER -- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our daily lives, posts on social media about using alcohol as a coping mechanism have become inescapable.
A video of the Barefoot Contessa making a comically large Cosmopolitan has gone viral, as has a story about a 93-year-old woman in Pennsylvania receiving a delivery from Coors after someone posted online about her beer supply running low.
Data from the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch in March showed cask wine sales were up 144 per cent, and sales of 24 packs of beer were up 120 per cent.
But what impact does drinking have on our overall health? And how much is too much? CTV Morning Live spoke to family physician Dr. Melissa Lem about how to manage alcohol consumption during the pandemic.
Dr. Lem says the drinking culture in Canada tends to revolve around weekends and time off, and since every day now feels like a weekend for some people, there are fewer boundaries around alcohol consumption. Some people also use alcohol to relax and deal with stress, which she says can be OK, as long as people have other healthy coping mechanisms and consumption doesn't go up. She says the sale of some booze did increase in March over February but notes that it might not necessarily mean people are drinking it all right away.
"We don't yet know if people are actually drinking more or if they're just stockpiling like they did with toilet paper," she says.
Dr. Lem said some of the long-term risks of over-consumption can include liver disease, heart disease and cancer, and it can also trigger some significant short-term impacts on things like sleep.
"Some people have a habit of drinking in the evening before bedtime to relax, but this can actually worsen your overall sleep," she says. "When the depressive effects of the alcohol wear off, your brain wakes up, which can cause restless sleep, and unfortunately, bad sleep can worsen your immune function."
She notes that drinking can also impact your lung function by reducing the number of virus-fighting cells and proteins you produce, as well as damaging the lining of your lungs, which could potentially make someone more susceptible to viral diseases like COVID-19.
According to Canadian guidelines, women should have no more than 10 drinks per week or two drinks on most days, and men should have no more than 15 drinks per week or three drinks on most days. Anything more than this, she says, is considered to be too much. People should avoid drinking everyday, but Dr. Lem acknowledges that this can prove challenging while self-isolating.
"When you're stuck inside with alcohol nearby and there's no one outside our households to socialize with, basically our homes are becoming our clubs and bars, and it can be harder to avoid over-drinking," she said.
The most significant sign that someone has alcohol use disorder is if the effects start to spill over into everyday life, says Dr. Lem.
"If you're having trouble keeping up with your family or your work or you're having mood swings or irritability or if you're drinking alone or secretly," she says.
Some of the ways she suggests seeking help include reaching out to your family doctor, virtual AA meetings or calling the Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Service at 1-800-663-1441.
Watch the video attached for more of Dr. Lem's tips on how to manage stress in a healthy way and more suggestions on how to seek help if you think your alcohol consumption is becoming a problem.