Has the Pandemic Caused More Drinking Problems?

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By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

During this quarantine time, it can be challenging for you to maintain your mental health. Researchers have found that drinking may be increasing since this COVID-19 pandemic started as a way to mask anxiety and fear from feeling uncertainty and avoiding facing reality.

If you are heavily relying on alcohol to forget the reality, obsessed about drinking, cannot stop drinking even though it is harming your health, you should talk to your primary care physician about your situation. If you are seeing a therapist, you can discuss your drinking habit. When you can be honest with yourself, you can best decide what to do next.

One significant sign that you may have a problem with alcohol is blackouts. There are two types of blackouts: “fragmentary blackouts,” where you only remember fragments of what happened while drinking, and “islands” where you don’t remember anything that happened (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2019). Blackouts are caused by high blood alcohol levels, which impairs your memory system in your brain. Blackouts are different from passing out. “During a blackout, a person is still awake, but their brain is not creating new memories” (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2019). If your family members or close friends mention things you said and did while drinking and you don’t remember it, you may have had a blackout.

You may feel resistant to thinking of yourself as an alcoholic even though you have noticed that you have a problem. You may have the misconception that alcoholics are people who have lost everything and are not able to sustain themselves, which is not entirely true. Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, both had well-paying jobs, but they could not stop drinking despite their declining health, financial problems, and family issues.

Alcoholics Anonymous facilitates a twelve-step program to help alcoholics acquire sobriety and stay sober. Much scientific research has been done about the effectiveness of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step program’s approach. As neuroscience is advancing, researchers are finding how this approach works from a neuroscience perspective.

Before the pandemic, you could go to an Alcoholics Anonymous in-person meeting to find a solution to your suffering through the support of others who have also struggled with alcoholism.

Fortunately, you can still join the program and get support through the many Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held on Zoom. When you feel alone, I recommend you try to find a meeting and just be there. You don’t need to leave your home. You have no obligation, and no one will convince you that you are an alcoholic. You are the only one who can decide whether you are an alcoholic or not.


Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.).
Blum, K., Thompson, B., Demotrovics, Z., Femino, J., Giordano, J., Oscar-Berman, M., …Gold, M.S. (2015).

The Molecular Neurobiology of Twelve Steps Program & Fellowship: Connecting the Dots for Recovery. Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome, 1,46-64.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2019). Interrupted Memories: Alcohol-Induced Blackouts. Retrieved from

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved from

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Breaking Free from Sugar Addiction

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(Picture Credit: Shutterstock)

By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

Halloween candieeees!!!! If you can eat a candy one at a time, that is great. But if you start thinking about eating candy all the time, or if you cannot stop eating candy once you have one, it can be a problem.

Do you know that you can get addicted to sugar? Researchers are finding out that sugar rewards animal brains like drugs do (Wiss, Avena, and Rada, 2018). How? In an animal brain and also in a human brain, there are “opioid and dopamine circuitry” (Maté, 2010, p.171). Both are important systems for your survival, but they are also involved in addiction. The opioid system uses endorphins, which are “natural narcotics” (Maté, 2010, p.158), and regulate your body in many ways. On the other hand, The dopamine system “has been associated with pleasure” and dopamine “has been called the anti-stress molecule and the pleasure molecule” (Blum, Braverman, et al.: as cited in Blum et al., 2015). They found that rats binge on sugar water because it releases dopamine in their brains like drugs do (Avena et al.; Rada et al.; as cited in Avena, Rada and Hoebel, 2008).

On top of that, they found that binge drinking on sugar water changed dopamine receptors in rats’ brains, which means they needed more and more sugar to feel the same pleasure. They also found craving anxiety and withdrawal occurs when rats only could access to sugar sporadically (Avena, Rada and Hoebel, 2008).

Those changes likely occur in human brains, too (Avena, Rada and Hoebel, 2008). We need to eat. Sugar is one of the foods that give us energy. When our food was scarce, our survival mechanism worked well. But “(a) s we evolved culturally, the neural circuits involved in addictive behaviors became dysfunctional, and instead of helping us survive they are in fact compromising our health” (Wiss, Avena, and Rada, 2018).

When you cannot modify your candy-eating behavior, and you became addicted to sugar, you are powerless over sugar or sweets because the opioids and dopamine systems in your brain were changed (Blum et al., 2015). It takes time to reverse the change. If you are repeating the same binge-eating of sugar and wishing someday you will stop, you cannot change your brain. Your brain is used to be in the routine and does not like change. If you try to stop on your own, you may feel fear and anxiety from withdrawal. So, if you decide to break free from your sugar addiction, you need to look for outside help, like going to twelve-step meetings, self-help groups, or seeking psychotherapy.


Avena, N.M., Rada P., & Hoebel, B.G. (2008). Review: Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 32,20-39.

Blum, K., Thompson, B., Demotrovics, Z., Femino, J., Giordano, J., Oscar-Berman, M., …Gold, M.S. (2015). The Molecular Neurobiology of Twelve Steps Program & Fellowship: Connecting the Dots for Recovery. Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome, 1,46-64.

Maté, G. (2010). In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Wiss, D. A., Avena N., & Rada, P. (2018). Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution. Front Psychiatry, 9:545.

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