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Addiction experts worry about long-term impacts during recovery as alcohol sales spike

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

As stay-at-home orders and self-isolation continue to keep people cooped up, experts say some are turning to alcohol to cope with the stress and anxiety related to COVID-19.

Data shows alcoholic beverage sales went up by 55 percent in late March, compared to sales in 2019.

According to the data from Neilson, online alcohol sales increased by nearly 400 percent during the week ending on April 11 compared to the same period in 2019. Total alcohol sales grew more than 26 percent during that same period.

In Columbia, several local liquor stores told ABC17 News sales have increased during the crisis, including Macadoodles, Xpress Liquor and Arena Liquor.

While consumption of alcohol may be up right now, experts say they are worried about what will happen after the pandemic slows down.

Denis McCarthy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Missouri. He says alcohol has both stimulative and sedative properties, so that's why people drink to celebrate and to relax.

"Right now, they aren't going out and partying, so we're seeing a lot more drinking to cope with stress, cope with negative affect, cope with boredom," McCarthy said.

He said research shows drinking to cope with negative feelings is not effective, and can make things worse physically and mentally.

"When we look at when people have problems with alcohol it's almost always when they are drinking to cope with negative experiences," McCarthy said.

Many addiction experts aren't anti-alcohol, McCarthy saying it's reasonable to have a drink or two to relax. He said it becomes dangerous when it is excessive, which can just make things worse.

"If it were a good stress reliever, physicians would prescribe it, right? And we don't prescribe it, we prescribe things like exercise and things like that," McCarthy said.

As sales right now are seeing a spike, McCarthy said he is worried about what is to come when social distancing loosens and if unemployment remains high.

He compared it to when the market crashed in 2008. There was an uptick in alcohol and other substance abuse in the aftermath.

"We expect we'll probably see that again as unemployment, stress and poverty are big causes of increases in substance abuse," McCarthy said.

A major concern for McCarthy is a lack of trained addiction providers to help those who may become addicted to substances.

"I think if we are doing anything right now, it should be getting ready to meet that need even stronger after this happens," McCarthy said. " We already didn't have enough people to provide addiction services and support and we're probably going to be even further behind."

The World Health Organization also said alcohol consumption can lead to a weaker immune system, and recommended people reduce use during the global pandemic.

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Connor Hirsch

Connor Hirsch reports for the weekday night shows, as well as Sunday nights.

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