Nurse Louise               (414) 331-1794
Nurse Chris                 (262) 617-1574    

When my patients ask how to manage depression and avoid anxiety in isolation, I tell them to abstain from alcohol and marijuana. Responsible use of these substances is possible during normal times, and it’s tempting to reach for a drink or a joint to take the edge off. But lockdown is a recipe for overindulgence and dependence.

Booze and pot can offer temporary relief and comfort, but this benefit is short-lived and ultimately can be self-destructive. Both can contribute to psychological distress, fatigue and even paranoia when used regularly. And drinking is associated with domestic violence, which has been on the rise during this crisis.

One patient, a 42-year-old wife and mother of two, had been meeting online with friends for “Zoomtails”—a virtual cocktail hour—every night. Her more frequent drinking began to undermine her well-being. She slept poorly and woke up anxious in the middle of the night. She became irritable with her husband and children. She didn’t want to exercise because of her constant fatigue and hangover. She lost her appetite and began skipping meals.

I helped her to understand that alcohol can have these effects if used regularly. I encouraged her to share meals rather than drinks with her friends on Zoom. Within a week she was more energetic, hopeful and productive and was able to go out for a run every day. She slept through the night without interruption.

Using alcohol as a sleep aid is common and unhealthy. It can induce sleep, but it reduces its quality by inhibiting restorative REM sleep. Many people are having strange and fitful nightmares, but dreaming is critical for mental health. It is the mechanism for our minds to process anxiety, leading to calmer days.

Another patient, a 32-year-old single man, coped with the anxiety of job loss, loneliness and the uncertainty by vaping and smoking pot every day. He used marijuana before, but only occasionally. Regular use exacerbated his despair and also caused paranoia, insomnia and panic attacks. I encouraged him to stop, and after a consultation with a psychiatrist, he began taking antianxiety medication, which stabilized his mood, ending his panic attacks and paranoid feelings.

There is no panacea for the anxiety and depression the pandemic and its effects have caused, but alcohol and marijuana tend to make them worse rather than better and in some cases will lead to addiction that will outlast the virus. 

Ms. Komisar is a New York psychoanalyst and author of “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters.”
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