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Pandemic + booze = breakups, bad news

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | December 30, 2020 1:00 AM

Alcohol sales and consumption have been at high levels during the coronavirus.

So have breakups and alcohol abuse.

"We have had an increase in the number of survivors who have come in to access services disclosing that their partner has increased their drinking during the pandemic," Chauntelle Lieske, executive director of the Safe Passage Violence Prevention Center nonprofit, said.

Kootenai Recovery Community Center director of center operations said she and her team have also noticed a rise in alcohol use and tension in relationships, as well as behavioral disorders and people seeking help for alcoholism this year.

"What I have learned during COVID-19 is that when we had the lockdown, couples had to isolate together or apart," Alberts said. "When we are isolated and add alcohol to the problem, not only did the relationships suffer, so did the children."

A Nov. 24 study from American Addiction — a network of national rehab facilities — found that 13% of Idaho couples that broke up this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic parted ways because of issues caused by alcohol. The state with the highest amount of alcohol-fueled breakups is Louisiana at 50%. Washington and Montana both reported 31% while Oregon reported 11%. Alcohol claimed a quarter of California's relationships while the lowest numbers are in Ohio, Michigan and Mississippi at 10% each.

Across 3,400 21-and-older Americans surveyed in November, nearly one in five people admitted to keeping some of their drinking a secret from their partner during lockdown and 15% admitted they had been drunk during lockdown while their partner stayed sober. One in 10 said they would keep it a secret from their partner if they had a drink first thing in the morning and 22% of people in relationships admitted they have lied to their partner about how much they had been drinking.

The study, at www.americanaddictioncenters.org, points to lockdowns, social distancing and being forced into quarantine as reasons significant others have become weary of not-so-charming habits like leaving dirty clothes around the house or lacking in personal hygiene.

Those who were in new relationships may not have been aware of how much their partner drank before the pandemic struck. The added complication of a heavy-drinking partner can have negative impacts on couples. This might include neglecting important work or home responsibilities and increased risk of legal or financial difficulties brought on by the habit. Elevated stress and anxiety levels also tend to increase a person’s drinking habits and exacerbate symptoms of an existing alcohol use disorder.

Being home all the time has brought these issues to light, and alcohol has a way of intensifying irritations one might have bottled up. About a quarter of couples admitted to arguing with their partner often when one or both of them have been drinking.

"While it is possible to overlook certain character flaws in a partner, more serious things like excessive drinking can be extremely problematic, considering alcohol abuse may cause an individual to prioritize their drinking habits and ignore other responsibilities," the study reads.

Lieske said Safe Passage has received an uptick in calls from survivors whose partners are drinking more, creating more fear in the relationship. But while drinking doesn’t cause domestic violence, it can make the violence worse or increase how often it is happening, she said.

Every situation varies depending on the individuals, Lieske said, but if someone feels stressed or unsafe in a relationship when a partner drinks, he or she can talk with someone they trust about having a safe place to get away from it.

"This could just be another place in the home," she said. "They can also call Safe Passage and talk about the situation with an advocate who can go through safety planning with them and come up with some ideas on how to stay safe when their partner starts drinking."

She said communication is always best if it's a healthy relationship.

"Partners talking about how the drinking is making them feel and maybe other ideas on ways to deal with the stress that is so present in everyone’s life right now," she said. "There are some really great telehealth options for counseling and other supports during the pandemic."

However, this will not work in the context of a relationship where domestic violence is already present, she said.

"One partner has more of the control in the relationship, not making the communication fair or healthy," Lieske said. "Trying to have this conversation could cause more harm and violence from the partner."

She said it may be an unhealthy relationship, even if there has been no violence.

"Domestic violence can come in the form of emotional or mental abuse," Lieske said. "Some people fear their partner who has never laid a hand on them. Anyone who has any worry about their relationship can call us. We are happy to help. Survivors should know they are not alone and this isn’t their fault. All of our services are free and completely confidential."

Here in North Idaho, Alberts said, there are resources to help people when their partner's drinking becomes intolerable, although COVID-19 has made some difficult to access.

"When the COVID-19 protocols were put in place to keep people safe, there was a large amount of phone calls and telehealth that was being used," she said. "It was challenging at times, because there is nothing like face-to-face help. Zoom also helped with some face-to-face meetings with clients."

If someone is worried about their safety when thinking about talking with their partner, he or she can call Safe Passage's 24-hour hotline at 208-664-9303 and talk with an advocate. Safe Passage is at 850. N. Fourth St., Coeur d'Alene. Visit www.safepassageid.org for information.

Kootenai Recovery Community Center, a nonprofit that supports individuals seeking to initiate or maintain recovery from behavioral health and/or substance abuse issues, is at 1621 N. Third St., Suite 700, Coeur d'Alene. Visit www.kootenairecovery.org or call 208-932-8005 for info.

View the study: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/blog/pandemic-relationships


This story has been updated.