As we toil away — or thrive, depending on your style — in quarantine, happy hour has been starting earlier and earlier. Bars are closed and your couch is the new neighborhood haunt. The drinks are cheap (free, even!) and last call comes when you say so.
A new study from Alcohol.org shows that over a third of people surveyed report that they’re more likely to drink in isolation during the Coronavirus quarantine. It might not seem problematic at first. A glass of wine with dinner turns into two or three, because, why not? It’s not like you have somewhere to be tomorrow morning.
But NYC Neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez is worried about more than a universal hangover. Hafeez warns about the short term effects of alcohol on the body’s immune system response, with particular effects on the lungs’ ability to fight off infections like COVID-19. That 5th scotch may take off the edge of your 401(k) getting clobbered and the fear of pending layoffs, but it's also putting you more at risk.
Alcohol delivery service Drizly ($PRIVATE:DRIZLY) saw a spike in Facebook engagement late last month, as people began settling into quarantine. The company’s Facebook mentions shot up over 600% from the beginning of March.
“Studies show that posting alcohol-related content on social media is associated with high rates of alcohol consumption, cravings and alcohol addiction,” Hafeez told Thinknum. “A growing body of research also suggests that these messages may be powerful enough to influence a person's drinking habits.”
Alcohol-related content on social media is associated with high rates of alcohol consumption, cravings and alcohol addiction
Some people have responded to the crisis with off-color Coronavirus jokes and puns on social media. Pictures of Corona ($BUD) beer are common, low-hanging fruit. Somewhat surprisingly, Corona’s sales are up this year. And over the last few months, the beer brand’s Twitter followers have increased by 32%.
Corona has been wisely silent regarding the pandemic— its Twitter page mostly features pictures of people at the beach.
Stella Artois is currently running a quarantine campaign on Twitter featuring the #StellaDigitalCheers challenge, where followers are encouraged to post their long-distance drink dates. The brand has also started sharing celebrity cooking videos that supposedly benefit restaurant relief efforts. Since the end of February, Stella’s Twitter following has grown 6%.
According to Nielsen figures, for the week ending March 14, off-premise outlets such as liquor and grocery stores saw sales of wine up 27.6%, spirits by 26.4% and beer, cider and malt beverages by 14% compared to the same week a year earlier. Sales of 3-liter boxes of wine rose by 53%, and 24-packs of beer increased by 24%. Online alcohol sales for that week were also up, 42% year-on-year.
“In terms of my own experience with patients, I have moms who are drinking more, social drinkers who have increased their consumption, and some recovering alcoholics who have relapsed. I fear that when we return to whatever normal is, we will have more people relying on alcohol and an increase in relapse.”
Alcoholics in recovery and those struggling with drinking have turned to online counseling and Zoom AA meetings. Facebook mentions of the Talkspace online counseling have shot up over 1000% just this month.
“It is much harder now for people to get the support they need, even though Alcoholics Anonymous has done a wonderful job of continuing their meeting online via Zoom. When people can't hug someone or find their usual forms of diversion like exercise or hobbies or dinners with friends, they often revert to drinking. If they or a spouse have lost a job and feel hopeless, they begin to develop a ‘what the heck, who cares?’ attitude. When you compound that with a 24/7 news cycle of gloom and doom it adds insult or injury.”
In addition to virtual therapy and Zoom AA, Hafeez is a strong advocate of exercise. Without access to gyms, she suggests YouTube workouts, fitness apps, or even vigorous house cleaning. Over the past few months, the Apple Store ratings count for Peloton’s live workout class app have jumped 26%.
Meditation is another effective tool that’s been gaining popularity during quarantine. Facebook mentions of the meditation app Headspace have risen almost 300% this month.
“People normally turn to alcohol when they are scared, lonely, bored, depressed, isolated, anxious, and want to escape reality," Hafeez said. "In quarantine, you have the worst possible recipe of all of these components.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, you can find more information about Zoom AA meetings on www.samhsa.gov.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.