COVID-19 is having a dramatic effect on everyone’s daily lives, and the risks for misusing alcohol and other substances increases dramatically during times of stress. April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria (SAPCA) reminds Alexandria residents of the dangers of substance misuse and the importance of incorporating healthy coping practices as one component of building resilient families, youth and communities.
“We are all looking for ways to cope and help children and teens cope with the fear and stress associated with the COVID-19 crisis,” says SAPCA Coordinator Emma Beall. “But choosing to deal with stress by drinking alcohol or using other substances can actually have a harmful effect, not only on your body but also on those around you.”
For example, says Beall, alcohol consumption can actually weaken the body’s immune systems and increase susceptibility to respiratory viral infections like COVID-19. Even small amounts of alcohol can impact judgement and the way people make decisions.
Adult drinking behavior can also influence youth. Beall points to research revealing that youth in homes where substances are misused are at a higher risk of misusing alcohol or drugs. “Drinking alcohol during the teen years can harm the growing brain and increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder in later life,” she adds.
“Fortunately, there is a large array of resources available that suggest healthy ways to cope and help us adjust to change and uncertainty,” Beall says, “and choosing healthy ways to cope not only impacts our own health and resilience but also the health and resilience of our families and our community.”
Healthy coping practices can be as simple as creating space to exercise, video chatting with friends or family or spending five or ten minutes using a meditation app, says Beall, who adds that residents can find a wide range of other ideas in the City’s COVID-19 Wellness Resource Guide as well as two easy to share handouts that provide tips for coping with the fear and stress resulting from COVID-19 crisis for adults and youth.
“These practices can help foster the ability to thrive, adapt and cope despite tough and stressful times,” says Beall.
Modeling healthy coping mechanisms is a crucial way parents and caring adults can help prevent youth substance use and abuse in our community, says Beall. “If adults model that substances are needed to relieve stress, or used as a coping mechanism, it can send the wrong message to youth.”
During this time at home, Beall encourages residents to look for and take opportunities to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol and other substances by having conversations with children and teens about healthy decision-making and avoiding risky behaviors, with a focus on understanding and responding to peer pressure.
“Even though it may not seem like it, children and teens really do hear you when you talk to them about alcohol,” says Beall, who adds that parents and caring adults can find tools on SAPCA’s website to help start the conversation.
“By preparing and practicing for these scenarios, parents and caring adults can equip children and teens to make healthy decisions for their health and future,” says Beall.
Residents can learn more about issues related to alcohol, how to talk to youth about alcohol, the dangers of underage drinking, and where to get support or treatment at PreventItAlexandria.org. For the latest information on COVID-19, visit alexandriava.gov/Coronavirus.