Skip to main content
Drinking Alcohol During the Pandemic

Photo by Adam Jaime on Unsplash

My mother, who was the travel agent for guilt trips, could write a pretty mean letter when she was in the mood to do it. The worst one I ever received came after they had visited me in the church where I worked in Louisville.

Several of us went out after the service and I bought my dad a beer to go with our tacos. My mother, I’m certain, came to America on the Mayflower in the company of some hard-assed Puritans. For her, drinking a beer was the same as trying to drink all of the beer in the world.

There was no line between occasional or moderate alcohol use and full-blown alcoholism.

In fact, a year or so after my mother died, my dad told me that he bought a six pack of beer and put it in his refrigerator but, he said, every time he opened the refrigerator door and saw it, he could swear that he heard Helen crying behind him, so he eventually just threw it away.

Needless to say, I grew up in a home that was so dry it was a fire hazard. My first encounter with an alcoholic was in my student church in Russellville, Kentucky. My attempts to help that man led me to attending AA meetings with him and eventually doing my master’s thesis in the treatment of alcoholism.

During my doctoral work, I took my Clinical Pastoral Education working as a chaplain in the Veterans’ Hospital’s addiction treatment center in Nashville. I became a huge fan of the 12-Step recovery program which, almost like my mother had written the literature, taught that the cure for addiction was to embrace a life of absolute abstinence.

In that understanding of addiction, there were people who were not addicts, who could drink or not drink, and there were alcoholics, whom we protected from even using after shave or mouth wash that contained alcohol. And I still don’t want to throw any shade on the AA program. It has worked for more people than any other treatment program in its century of admirable work. 

But over my years of work with both drug and alcohol addiction, I have realized that this binary view of addiction is totally nuts. There are people who drink to the point of intoxication every day, but they never have blackouts, hangovers, and they never miss work but to say that they are not alcoholics misses the point. They are still emotionally unavailable parents and partners and they are chemically dependent. 

I want to talk about substance use and abuse today, in large part because the whole world is being confined to their homes, faced with domestic tension and boredom, complicated with feelings of anxiety and depression . . . a powder keg for potential addiction and abuse issues.

Drinking Alcohol During the Pandemic

Bruce Alexander has written about the fact that historically speaking, cultures can go for generations with fairly low levels of substance abuse, and then circumstances change, and it becomes nearly universal. Honestly, I worry about that now during our months of quarantine.

Especially since, right now, AA meetings are not happening in person, so many people who have depended on daily or regular meetings to maintain their sobriety are having to rely on phone calls and video conferencing and, as we all know by now, even from our virtual church, it is not the same.

Moderate drinkers can become alcohol abusers, and those who use Xanax and other panic and anxiety medications can begin to abuse their prescription drugs, and, under our current circumstances, I worry about those who take Adderall the most. I’m going to leave some of the more clinical, researched based part of this to my friend, Dr. Paul Thomlinson, but I want to speak about this personally.

After leaving my parents’ home, alcohol became a part of my life. In college, it was typically a matter of occasional pizza and beer. In grad school, I fell into the habit of having either wine or beer before bed to help me go to sleep for the three or four hours a night that I got to sleep.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

After graduation, it became a part of social life. You got a beer with your friends after a run, a tennis match, or a white-water rafting event. As I got older, especially when I had an “empty nest,” I started going out to hear live music with friends, which almost always happens in a bar where, lo and behold, they serve alcohol. 

I never drank alcoholically. I never had a blackout, never had a DUI, never had a hangover or a headache, but my doctor, responding to my frustration about not losing weight, especially as I have been threatened with high cholesterol and type-2 diabetes, has suggested cutting alcohol out of my diet. To placate him, I would cut back but never stop until about six weeks ago. 

Realizing that my health demanded some serious action, I just stopped drinking . . . before Covid-19 was a big deal. I immediately started to lose weight faster than ever before. And, ironically, I also found that I went to sleep easily at the end of the day and slept through the night without any issues.

And when the world was still going out to bars to hear bands, I found that I could drink water or tea and though no one around me pressured me to drink, I noticed how alcohol was affecting the people I hang out with and I didn’t like what I saw. In fact, I fear that I have lost a close friend simply from being sober while he was plastered. 

And about a month later, I donated blood and saw from the lab test that for the first time in 20 years my cholesterol was normal, my blood sugar is down, and my jeans are three sizes smaller. I have not sworn off all alcohol forever, I would have a drink if I wanted to, but, realizing what my instincts would have led me to do when I am trapped alone in my home for days at a time with a liquor cabinet full of tasty anesthesia, I don’t want to drink. 

I have known for years that alcohol can be dangerous because of alcoholism, but cirrhosis of the liver or drunk driving are not the only ways that alcohol can kill you. There is also diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and, what I might call, episodic insanity. 

I have always loved the famous Ben Franklin quote: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But like so many popular Ben Franklin quotes, he never said it and evidently didn’t much care for beer. However, rather more poetically, he did make a similar sentiment known in a letter to a friend about wine.

He wrote:

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!”

But, as Franklin, during his years as the American diplomat in France, became known for giving up state secrets to a prostitute with a bottle of wine, spirits can gladden the heart and lubricate some social settings but drinking doesn’t make you smart and it reduces your inhibitions, probably below the level of your normal informed self-control.

Again, I am not saying that I have taken up my mother’s mantle. I will have a drink from time to time. But not very often, and probably not at all during the Covid-19 quarantine because it is just too easy to fall into the habit of coping through self-medication . . . and that goes double for Xanax and Adderall. Just because you have a prescription doesn’t mean that you should take too much. 

Dr. Roger Ray

Allow me to remind you, I am a doctor, maybe not the kind you might wish, but, I have the sheepskin to prove it: I prescribe long walks in the sunshine, meditation, reading, hot baths, conversation, and exposure to art and nature. We’re going to get through this. I just want all of you to emerge from quarantine more healthy than you were when Covid-19 showed up in this neck of the woods.

Rev. Roger L. Ray

The Emerging Church