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At a time when preserving public health is our highest priority, why would we want to encourage excessive alcohol use among the vulnerable?
This is a composite case illustration purposes only. The details do not point to any one individual. Ed
When my patient told me about her newly discovered “virtual happy hours,” I was shocked and dismayed. Her moods had suffered whenever she lapsed into drinking too much alcohol. We’d already had the “talk” about women, both mentally and medically, and about how vulnerability to the effects of alcohol increases with age.1
When the New York Times featured an article about “virtual happy hours” the following week, I was even more disheartened. At a time when preserving public health is our highest priority, why would we want to encourage excessive alcohol use among the vulnerable?
We know from past experience that alcohol use disorder (and other drug use) soared post 9/11 and remained high, even after PTSD symptoms subsided.2 The more forward thinking commentators speculate that the true death toll of 9/11 has yet to be tallied, because chronic alcohol overuse is a killer.3 The CDC tells us that alcohol claims twice as many American lives annually as opioids. Alcohol use is responsible for 88,000 deaths a year.4
Patients who attend New York 12-step meetings tell me that they often hear stories that trace relapses to 9/11. Contrarily, many tell me how much they appreciate the surge in virtual meetings online, as well as the ability to “attend” meetings in glamorous locales like LA or to revisit their hometowns (virtually) and to learn that some old drinking buddies are now sober. Those people have found helpful and healthful routes to our current corona virus predicament.
But what about the rest of us? Are there alternatives to breaking social isolation without breaking out a bottle of beer? For sure. How about tele-teatime? The varieties of available teas are endless. Learning about teas-and their native habitats-is a good way to while away the hours. An even better pastime for indoor moments is windowsill gardening: growing dainty chamomile flowers from seed and making tea from the flowers.
YouTube and internet gardening sites list an amazing array of mint plants. There is chocolate mint, peppermint, spearmint, licorice mint, and more. Should the quarantine stretch into summer, wilted hibiscus petals from the garden can be turned into a tasty tea and vibrant red one at that. (Petals are plucked and dried after prime blooming time, before they drop to the ground.) Sharing the cup of tea as well as posting photos of plants, with newfound and old friends, will be a pleasure without adversely impacting health.
Dr Packer is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai, New York, NY.
1. Packer S. Jessica Jones (superhero), women and alcohol use disorders. In: Rayborn T, Keyes A, Eds. Jessica Jones, Scarred Superhero: Essays on Gender, Trauma and Addiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.
2. Stress and Substance Abuse: A Special Report After the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks. National Institute on Drug Abuse. November 1, 2001. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/publications/stress-substance-abuse-special-report-after-911-terrorist-attacks. Accessed March 26, 2020.
3. Szalavitz M. How We Cope: What Do Addiction Rates After 9/11 Tell Us? Time. September 9, 2011. https://healthland.time.com/2011/09/09/how-we-cope-what-addiction-and-recovery-rates-after-911-tell-us. Accessed March 26, 2020.