FILE - Liquor alcohol

(The Center Square) – New Mexico residents and those across the country have been turning to alcohol in increasing numbers during the pandemic, according to a recent survey.

Published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the survey showed that 60% of Americans reported increased drinking. COVID-19 appeared to play a role with participants who experienced stress related to the pandemic reporting consumption of more drinks than those who did not experience that kind of stress.

New Mexico already leads the country in alcohol-related deaths and has done so since 1997, as reported by the Sage Neuroscience Center.

Brian Serna, president of New Mexico Association of Addiction Professionals (NMAAP), said this rise is something New Mexico should be concerned about.

“Alcohol is an addiction like other addictions,” he told The Center Square. “One of the things that I am a firm believer in is no matter what epidemic we’re in – whether that be the opioid epidemic or methamphetamine epidemic – they really can’t touch alcohol just as far as the amount of damage that alcohol does in our society being a legal drug.”

Serna noted alcohol is everywhere: at convenience stores, Walgreens, Walmart and many other retail outlets.

He pointed to isolation and hopelessness instigated by the pandemic particularly during the stay-at-home orders as the biggest factor contributing to the uptick in alcohol use.

“Addiction in general is a disease that thrives in isolation,” Serna said.

There are many ways the shifts in living during the pandemic could feed increased alcohol consumption, he said.

“I think the amount of people that have been staying at home, whether they're working from home or just being unemployed, that also is a contributing factor,” he said. “So people who do not have work they have to show up for, it’s even easier for them to increase their drinking.

He notes access to help has increased with the advent of telehealth, but some of the increased access comes with reasons preventing its use, including lack of internet connection or a private space.

“So I think the biggest factor in helping somebody out of that is increasing meaningful connections in their life, and a lot of times that does include a meaningful job that they have to show up for,” he said.

If anyone notices someone else needs help, Serna said the best thing they can do is reach out in a very kind, non-judgmental way.

“Something as simple as, ‘You know, I’ve noticed you drink a lot more since the pandemic started and I’m starting to get a little bit worried about you – is there anything I can do to help?’” he said. “Or they can even just say, ‘Would you like some help?’ and help that person navigate the first few steps to getting help.”