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Pandemic may lead to rise in alcohol, substance abuse

Posted at 7:07 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 11:49:34-04

NEW YORK — Quarantines, isolation, social distancing are all meant to keep us safe but experts say in some cases it’s leading to alcohol and substance abuse.

It's also taking a toll on mental health.

While some are turning to online resources like group therapy sessions on Zoom, an uptick in alcohol sales suggests others are coping differently.

A recent Nielsen study found that alcohol sales are up 55%, while a new survey by Alcohol.org shows 38% of New Yorkers admit to drinking during working hours.

"In the current situation that we are in, there are unusual triggers," explained Dr. Alexandra Stratyner, an addiction and recovery psychologist. "Triggers could be something like grief, triggers could be something like isolation."

According to Stratyner, whether it’s overeating, drinking in excess or turning to controlled substances, it’s crucial to not only identify triggers but to immediately address them especially for those in recovery.

"Active substance use in isolation or relapse to substance abuse in isolation is a very concerning medical emergency," she said.

Creating structure, like scheduling a time to exercise or catch up with loved ones, could also mitigate stress and deter bad habits.

With uncertainty being the universal concern for many, veterans — who have dealt with their fair share of isolation and trauma — have become an unlikely resource according to Dr. Amanda Spray, clinic director at The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone Health.

"They were trained for a crisis," Dr. Spray said. "I think there are a lot of lessons we can learn from our veterans that are not actually turning to potentially old unhealthy strategies."

The Cohen Center at NYU Langone Health is part of Cohen Veterans Network (CVN), a national not-for-profit network of mental health clinics for post-9/11 veterans and military families.

As emergency services continue to be inundated during the pandemic, officials are reminding the public that mental health emergencies are just as life threatening as COVID-19.

Many resources on the city and state level are available for those struggling with mental health during this time.

For resources that can help with substance abuse during the pandemic, visit this page.

To connect with The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone Health, or for more information on Cohen Veterans Network, visit this page.