Thursday, August 6, 2020


Here we go again, as the Coronavirus picks up speed all over the country and the world, even in places where quick shutdowns had flattened the curve early in the crisis.  And as time has provided more insights, as of now it appears that surfaces are less dangerous to us than close or prolonged contact with others who, often unbeknownst to themselves, are spreading the disease, not only through coughs and sneezes, but through speaking and exhaling. 

Turns out that face coverings are the most potent form of prevention of contagion, and that universal use of masks or shields might well make it possible to reopen much of the economy.  But we see, not only on news broadcasts but when we simply take a walk to get some exercise, many instances of individuals and groups who are congregating, playing casual team sports, having parties and nights on the town.  These people are, at those moments, in a state of denial.  Like the rest of us, they’ve had enough of putting much of their lives on hold, and they have pent-up demand for fun and human interaction.  Putting dangers out of their minds, they are offloading inhibitions and caution in order to feel good. 

Let’s see, what is the most common tool for discarding inhibitions and acting on impulse without thinking through consequences?  Could it be….. alcohol? 

Indeed, when we see people engaging in behavior that looks as if they are on a mission to spread disease, whether at house or pool parties or in and around bars, drinking tends to be the common denominator.  That’s not to say that nondrinkers are devoid of denial – I’ve heard a few long-sober people refer to COVID as little more than another flu bug – or that drinking is the only enabler of risky behavior (e.g.,some passionately religious gatherings).  But it seems pretty clear that if alcohol were subtracted from the picture, COVID rates and outbreaks would be significantly reduced.  And I don’t hear this mentioned much, at a time when, from what I read, beer, wine, and liquor sales have boomed. 

Although in some cases, increased drinking during the restricted COVID lifestyle has been fertile ground for the progression of alcohol use disorder, I’m not referring here mainly to those who are addicted, but to “social” drinkers.  Everyone’s chances of accidents, injuries, physical altercations, and acting on dangerous impulse are augmented when they drink. 

Drinking, of course, is embedded in our society (though something like 14% of American adults don’t drink at all).1  People find the effects rewarding, at least when they begin – alcohol temporarily reduces experience of many kinds of pain and discomfort, and since that includes social anxiety it is often used as a “social lubricant.”  In the longer run, of course, over-use tends to exacerbate the problems that drinking appeared, at first, to dissolve.

No one is saying that non-alcoholics shouldn’t drink at all.  Wait, I take that back, as some recent uber-studies have reached the conclusion that zero drinking is the best recommendation for people who prefer to live longer and healthier lives. 2, 3 On the other hand, another large-scale study4 suggested that “moderate” drinkers were overrepresented among those who lived past age 90 (most likely because they were moderate in their approach to a variety of health-related behaviors).

The American landscape has long been littered with the debris of human residue of alcohol over-use (illness, injury, death, lost careers and families, etc.).  COVID19 now invites us to add to that wreckage in a big way.  That’s an invitation worth rejecting.