ATLANTA - Sarah O'Brien says getting sober four years ago, after a decade and a half of alcohol and substance abuse, allowed her to regain custody of her two girls, buy a home, and find a job she loves.
"It's a feeling inside, like I finally have peace," the 35-year-old from Hanover, Massachusetts, says.
But, the isolation and stress of the pandemic have tested that peace.
"I was working full-time from home, and I was doing online schooling with my daughters," O'Brien says. "All of these things were happening, and there was really no outlet."
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She remembers sitting up one night, after another long day alone, when her deep sense of isolation hit her.
"I was just sobbing," she says. "And, I thought to myself, 'I am not going to get through this.' I thought, 'I don't want to drink, I don't want to escape in that sense.' But, I felt as though my mental health was extremely at stake, and I knew if I didn't do something about it, the one thing I always did in past was return to the drink. That's kind of the moment when I had to start reaching out."
A poll early in the pandemic found women were drinking about 17% more.
Another survey, conducted by the RAND Corporation, found women reported 41% more days of heavy drinking, defined as consuming 4 or more drinks within several hours, in the first few months of the pandemic.
Patrick Cronin, Director of Business Development at ARK Behavioral Health, which operates addiction treatment centers, says alcoholism thrives on isolation.
He knows this, he says, because he, too, is in long-term recovery.
"Alcoholism and drug addiction wants you at home, and it wants you to isolate," Cronin says. "So, you put yourself at home, either by yourself or with children. Either way, you're kind of confined, and that makes it difficult."
Cronin says ARK Rehabilitation has seen a jump in women seeking treatment for alcohol addiction.
"They're coming in much more severe shape," Cronin says. "I'm not saying when people come to treatment they're in the best of shape, but it's definitely gotten way worse, for alcohol specifically."
To find better ways of coping with her stress, Sarah O'Brien turned to Zoom, YouTube and apps to connect with her support community and learn how to meditate and practice yoga.
"I spoke to a lot of women that kept me grounded, when I was feeling down, when I was in a bad way, when I was kind of feeling as if I was stuck," she says.
O'Brien has maintained her recovery during the pandemic.
If you are drinking more, Patrick Cronin says, talk to someone you can trust, whether it is your doctor, a family member, or a friend in recovery.
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