COVID-19 not cramping Sussex alcohol, non-alcohol culture

May 1, 2020

During these days of corona – starting to feel endless – essential business has become a lightning-rod phrase. For entrepreneurs and independent businesspeople trying to make a buck to feed families by providing products and services, every one of their enterprises is essential.

Please don’t ask me to be the arbiter of essentiality. That’s a no-win proposition.

But one thing I know for sure: We do like our drugs – sipping them, smoking them, shopping for them, keeping them a part of our lifestyles.

And most of all in this society, we don’t want to do without our alcohol or caffeine or nicotine. Liquor store sales don’t appear to have slowed a bit. The same appears to be true with coffee sales. Smokers will always find their tobacco, marijuana believers their pot, heroin users their smack.

But for this column let’s focus on alcohol, a big part of our beach culture.

Early in Delaware’s shutdown, some questioned why liquor stores weren't being shuttered. Those rumblings faded quickly.

Countering arguments centered around alcohol withdrawal and associated problems such as domestic abuse, especially at home where people are advised to shelter in place.

Erin Willis monitors patient activity and volume at SUN Behavioral Health in Georgetown. In conversation last week, she reconfirmed an observation she made a year or so ago, not long after the facility first opened. While the medical staff there expected to see a lot of problems associated with opioid abuse, the surprise came with what they found with alcohol. “Treating people abusing alcohol has always been a big unit for us. We’ve found that alcohol is No. 1 here in terms of substance abuse,” she said.

Willis said SUN is starting to see a number of readmissions due to alcohol relapses. “It seems like people are sheltering at home and abusing alcohol – riding it out there. But that only lasts until there is a crisis. We’re expecting to be flooded here with detox patients. In the meantime our patient census is remaining really low. People are still going to the liquor stores to get their fix, but we think that will end soon. We’re already starting to see an uptick in the numbers we’re seeing.”

Willis said SUN is also seeing a rise in mental health issues during this time of corona.

AA not skipping a beat

While there is a national and local culture of which alcohol is a big part, there is also an active and vibrant culture in Sussex County – and elsewhere – whose participants have realized that alcohol, for them, poses far more problems than benefits. According to one longtime participant in Alcoholics Anonymous – the highly successful organization dedicated to helping those struggling with alcohol – that culture has not skipped a beat during this corona time of sheltering at home.

Physical meetings at church halls and other public facilities have, for the most part, shut down due to state-imposed restrictions. But virtual meetings via computers, and smaller meetings that comply with social distancing and gatherings of 10 or fewer people, continue with plenty of energy. That communal support is central to AA’s success. It’s almost a religion, but without any affiliation to any particular faith or creed.

The participant I spoke with, who functions as part of the local AA structure, said one morning last week, members of a regular meeting at a facility on Route 24 found themselves instead in a Zoom virtual meeting of the same group. “There were 30 to 35 people participating – the same number who would have been participating at a physical meeting. The secretaries for the different meetings have found virtual meetings and know how to set them up.”

He said there are, in normal times, at least 50 to 75 meetings in Sussex County. That’s every week and spread out across every day of the week. “They’re all very active and many of them have set up Zoom meetings. We’re very well covered and very active in Sussex. There are no slackers. There are a lot of people with sobriety here.”

He said he personally has 47 years of sobriety and knows others with more years than that. “I’d say there are at least 3,000 to 4,000 people active in Sussex in AA. We help each other. Take people to meetings. And if a situation is so bad, we will take them to rehab too. No problems because of this corona stuff. Carpenters, contractors, bankers, lawyers, preachers, bishops, you name it. We have lots of successful people who participate, help others, and keep it all going.

“One preacher had been in the pulpit for 27 years but said he didn’t find God until he joined AA.”

As hard as corona is working to keep us apart, we’re still finding ways to get together and help one another, with or without a drink.    

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter