It’s been more than 500 days since Marisa Silveri had a drink.
When the pandemic hit, Silveri, a single mother of two, considered herself a social drinker. But lockdown layered extra home duties on top of heightened anxieties about health, and before long she found herself a little too focused on the first sip of the evening.
“In the beginning of COVID, I definitely was one of those mothers who was like, ‘I can’t wait for a glass of wine,’ after the kids were in bed, because it was so stressful,” she said. “My kids were in virtual school. I was doing a full-time job.”
Silveri, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health at McLean Hospital, wasn’t alone. A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism showed that alcohol consumption in November 2020 was 39 percent higher than in February 2020, with a 30 percent rise in binge drinking. The institute has also published reports showing that per capita consumption increased 2.9 percent in 2020, the fastest rate since 1968, and that alcohol-related deaths increased 25 percent between 2019 and 2020. In January, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School estimated that increases in drinking during the COVID crisis will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040.
Silveri and other Harvard experts said that though the pandemic appears to be slowly releasing its grip on our daily activities, there’s little sign that its effects on our mental health — and related alcohol consumption — are receding.
“We are scrambling to try to keep the wait times to where they had been prior to COVID,” said Kevin Hill, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Medical School and director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “And we’re having a lot of trouble doing that.”