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Fairfield Addiction Specialist: 'Hopelessness' Hurts Recovery, Could Make Us Drink Too Much

Some of us are stressed out in quarantine and turning to alcohol to cope with COVID-19.
Some of us are stressed out in quarantine and turning to alcohol to cope with COVID-19. Photo Credit: Image by Vinotecarium from Pixabay

Does your "five o'clock somewhere" come in the middle of the afternoon in COVID-19 work-from-home quarantine? The stress is too much for some of us and impacts people in alcohol recovery.

Someone trying to maintain sobriety is especially challenged right now, said John Hamilton, who is the CEO/president of Liberation Programs, Inc., a behavioral health organization that treats substance use disorders with outpatient and residential treatment centers at several locations in Fairfield County.

"Any sense of loss and any level of financial stress can be a trigger for relapse," he worries.

In his work over the course of the past five months, he's seen the negative impact of COVID-19 on people trying to maintain their sobriety.  "People are feeling hopelessness and despair which translates to a higher chance of relapse," Hamilton said.

"We dealt with that on the front end and on the back end there are people working remotely breaking down their patterns and rituals around drinking. Somebody who just used alcohol at the end of the day is now using it during the day," he continued.

Research suggests being isolated — from working remotely or away from other normal routines that would normally get you out among other people, for instance —  is problematic for someone who drinks to feel better at the end of the day and can impact the one-drink-leads-to-another progression.

"When we disconnect from others it decreases dopamine,"  Hamilton noted, adding that people use alcohol and/or drugs to increase dopamine, which makes them feel better. Even low alcohol doses can increase dopamine release in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens (NAc) according to the National Institutes of Health.  

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in the brain’s reward reinforcement and pleasure centers. When dopamine levels are elevated, people are motivated to continue performing the action that brought about the increased dopamine, like drinking alcohol.

With more people working remotely and attending meetings on video conference, there's a potential for increased stress with the change. Hamilton noted that, for some people, the drastic change in work environment can make them drink more. 

Hamilton encourages discipline to control drinking when working from home. A sign you may be overdoing it is having a drink earlier in the day than before the social isolation. When that becomes "the new norm," a person's drinking becomes risky, Hamilton acknowledged.

He said there's a difference from someone "drinking socially at a dinner or family meal, which has a context from when you drink if you feel anxious or worried about money or sad."

For more information or to find a local group, visit Liberation Programs.

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