The Coronavirus and Alcohol

Flat lay top view coronavirus concept.

I find myself working from home at the moment, which is a challenge, albeit mainly because I am getting used to a slightly different way of working. Years ago this would have been an excuse to drink even more and a lot of people seem to be using the Coronavirus as an excuse to sit at home and drink (along with toilet paper, alcohol seems to be one of the most hoarded items).

This current situation we find ourselves in can seem very conducive to drinking for several reasons. Panic and uncertainty can be quite nicely anaesthetised by drinking, and when you’re hidden away at home there are less people to see how much you are drinking. For many people, being stuck at home all the time is a perfect excuse to drink. It’s like Christmas come early.

The problem is of course that, as ever, alcohol gives one point and takes ten. You may remove a little bit of anxiety, but then they get all that anxiety and more when that alcohol wears off. Remember the basic physiological mechanism; the brain counters the depressive effects of the alcohol by releasing stimulants, so when the alcohol wears off you are left overstimulated, which translates into a feeling of increased anxiety. You don’t get anything for nothing in this world.

So even at this basic level, you don’t get more than you give. You get rid of a bit of anxiety, then get a correspondingly increased amount of anxiety back later on.

However, you lose even more than this. The interruption to the normal chemical balance to your brain ruins your natural sleeping pattern, so the next day you are additionally tired which increases the likelihood that you will feel like you can’t cope with things. The increased stimulants also increase your heart rate, leaving you feeling additionally heavy and lethargic, which is the complete opposite of feeling fit and strong and able to cope with whatever life throws at you. Overall it’s not a nice feeling. So what do you do? Just take another drink of course! And there you are back on your downward spiral, everything looks much worse and much scarier when the alcohol has worn off, leaving you in far more need of another drink.

downward spiral stairs

I’m quite relaxed about this whole situation. Let’s look at the facts. We’ve got a virus going around that is less deadly than SARS was (estimated to be a third to around a tenth as deadly), that’s less contagious than SARS was (slightly). So why all the fuss? One of the main reasons is that it is contagious before any symptoms show (ie you can catch it and pass it on before you even know you’ve got it). So with SARS people would catch it, feel ill, go home to bed, then become contagious. With Coronavirus you catch it and go merrily on your way passing it around before you start to feel ill.

The steps that are currently being taken that are causing such a change to our usual patterns are just a numbers game. If you have a population of 80 million or 300 million and you can get 70% of them to have 70% less contact with other people, the spread will slow down. And that pretty much summarises where we are. The vast majority of people who get Coronavirus will have nothing more than a slight temperature and a bit of a cough. Something between 1% and 3% will have more serious symptoms and may need to be hospitalised. Hospitals do not have infinite capacity. If the Coronavirus is left unchecked it will spread very quickly and the hospitals will not be able to cope, so many more people will die. If it can be slowed down then the hospitals will (should) be fine.

I am fairly fit and healthy so have no particular concerns for myself. I do have elderly relatives who I am worried about, but worrying about them is part and parcel of my life. I do what I can for them, and encourage them to take steps to protect themselves. There is not much more I can do so I try to resign myself to it.

Drinking in fact is a very bad idea if you are concerned about Coronavirus. Alcohol demolishes your immune system and erodes your health generally, making you more likely to catch any illness, and suffer more from. There are numerous studies showing this (see for example https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/) but as ever it is really just common sense.

Covid models

Alcohol is a poison and it ruins sleep. Both of these things are going to leave your immune system less effective.

I know that I am very lucky in that I am employed by a huge multinational company, so my monthly income from my day job is as safe as it could be in the current climate. Not everyone is so lucky. Many people are being directly affected by current events, and social isolation is causing a massive impact on certain industries and incomes. If you are in that position then you need to be as mentally resilient and determined as you’ve ever been, and you need to save every penny. In other words, you need to stay away from alcohol.

These are strange times and likely to get stranger. Yesterday’s icing on the cake for me was to see Trump getting blasted for referring to the Coronavirus as ‘the Chinese virus’. The Coronavirus did come from China (as did SARS) and I am not sure why anyone should be criticised for saying it did. The reason why both of these viruses have come from China is because they have an abysmal relationship with, and way of treating, animals. I have no doubt we will continue to see these sorts of outbreaks until that very fundamental issue is addressed.

Until that day all you can do is stay healthy, try to sleep well, and stay positive. And remember that alcohol will stop you from doing all of these things.

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11 Responses

  1. I could not even imagine dealing with all this whilst suffering a hangover.
    Thankyou for your books and articles they sealed my sobriety 🙂

  2. Thanks so much, William! I am so glad and lucky I am not drinking anymore! Reading your article seals the deal!!! Thanks for all you do!!!!!

  3. I was thinking of having a few vodkas or beers today. Alone at home with children, isolated because of virus, bored. But, I am not going to drink because of your article. Thank you

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

Read the first five chapters of 

Alcohol Explained

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