All of our lives have changed with the pandemic, guidelines for social distancing and stay-at-home orders. We have been challenged to find new routines and a new normal during these unprecedented times.

While many of us have met the challenge with positive adjustments, some have also been challenged with bad habits easing their way into our routines.

Drinking alcohol is definitely one activity that has increased during the stay-at-home order. According to the University of Southern California News, alcohol sales have increased by 55 percent in late March 2020 in comparison to sales for the same time period in 2019.

The challenges of staying at home during the pandemic include heightened fear of illness, increased stress and boredom. Some people may cope by drinking more alcohol. When we look on social media it is evident that many have turned occasional social drinking into an “every day is Saturday” mentality.

Recognizing why we are drinking more and becoming aware of our increased use of alcohol will prompt many people to pull back to a healthier normal. Unfortunately, this realization is not the case for all. Individuals in recovery from alcoholism must meet each day as a new challenge.

Dr. Stephen Wyatt, Medical Director of Addiction Medicine at Atrium Health, shares an analogy of how the disease of alcoholism causes neurobiological changes in the brain. He relates the normal brain’s need for oxygen as something an individual doesn’t process and think about, but rather just automatically fights for air to breathe.

In a similar manner, the individual whose brain structure has been changed due to alcoholism fights for the alcohol automatically to provide what it senses the body needs. With therapy and medication, just as in many other diseases, this brain response can be changed to allow the person to move into recovery from alcoholism.

We must all be sensitive to the challenges that face each person in recovery. In addition, their families have also suffered through the process or, in fact, are dealing with a family member in the middle of active alcoholism.

For many of us not personally affected by alcoholism, someone who is drunk (or something they did while drinking) may be something to joke about. Unfortunately, alcohol use is never funny to the family members of the alcoholic; rather, it is often embarrassing or shameful. To the recovered alcoholic who nearly lost family or may have actually lost a relationship due to their alcoholism, an incident such as this may bring them back to those feelings of shame and embarrassment.

Additionally, someone in recovery makes a choice every day to stay sober. A comment or social media post mean to poke fun at ourselves – making light of drinking excessively, day drinking, or any normalizing of alcohol use during the pandemic – may potentially be a trigger to someone in recovery.

This is a time for us to support our families and community. Most of us know someone who has been affected by alcoholism, and we definitely celebrate those who have conquered and found themselves in recovery. Be mindful of how we can support them, and empathize with just how difficult it may be to be exposed to unintentional comments that may trigger old habits.

For information about Alcoholics Anonymous and to locate a meeting near you, please visit www.aa.org.

This column is written by Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC, school social worker for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families.

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