Doctors advise against overusing alcohol during coronavirus pandemic


It’s not unusual for people to turn to alcohol to ease anxiety, but doctors warn that overusing it can weaken your immune system and lead to dangerous behavior.

“It is a depressant,” said Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, the psychiatry chairwoman at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “It’s very routine to see patients in our E.R. who have gotten what I call drunk and stupid — often being suicidal or homicidal.”

During previous SARS and MERS pandemics, when people became unemployed and confined at home, Ritchie said the rate of suicide and domestic violence went up over time.

“And, alcohol certainly can fuel domestic violence,” Ritchie said.

Overusing alcohol weakens your immune system, too.

“It’s going to decrease your white blood cell count. It’s going to make your red blood cells not as healthy as they should be,” Ritchie said. “The last thing you can use right now is a depressed immune system.”

Overusing alcohol and using recreational drugs can also make you more susceptible to injuries.

“It can cause you to fall down and hit your head, and this is not a good time to go to the emergency room,” Ritchie said, citing one example of overusing alcohol.

Ritchie advises against all use of recreational drugs.

Marijuana has gotten a lot of positive press, she said, but it is often laced with other drugs.

“We see a lot of people with K2 and PCP who have done extraordinary stupid things — walking out into traffic, hitting other people, waving knives — and it’s not a good time to have the police bring you into the emergency room,” she said.

When it comes to alcohol, practice the golden rule of moderation, she advised.

“The point would be to moderate your use of alcohol,” Ritchie said. “A little bit is OK, but not too much.”

There are good, alternative ways to cope.

If you’re anxious, Ritchie recommends taking a walk, 6 feet away from others, and practicing simple relaxation techniques such as breathing through your nose. She said there are a number of apps that can help with meditation.

“You should really be trying new healthier lifestyles, and that will help get you through this time, and your family members as well,” Ritchie said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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