Liquor and lockdown: How the pandemic impacts alcoholism and recovery

The coronavirus pandemic poses new challenges for 15 million Americans battling alcoholism.
The coronavirus pandemic poses new challenges for 15 million Americans battling alcoholism.(WDBJ)
Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 1:23 AM EDT
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The coronavirus pandemic poses unique challenges for people battling alcoholism.

When the stay-at-home order first went into effect in March, liquor sales across Virginia jumped 21 percent compared to the previous year. As Governor Northam did not declare Alcoholics Anonymous essential, most meetings migrated to Zoom or were canceled altogether.

Even with Phase 2 of reopening set to begin Friday, Alcoholics Anonymous contacts in Southwest Virginia say virtual or canceled meetings may remain the new normal. During the next phase, the state will raise the limit on gatherings from 10 to 50 people, but locally, it will be up to the discretion of each AA group to determine if meetings will resume.

For Bryan Hertweck, a Moneta resident, there is an all-too-close connection between enjoying a drink on the rocks and hitting rock bottom.

“It’s insidious,” Hertweck said. “I literally got to the point where I said to myself, ‘you’re killing yourself with this now.’”

He says what started as social drinking in college progressed over the years, and the fallout trickled over to his wife and daughter.

“It was definitely tough on my wife. She was always concerned for my safety. I was doing unsafe things,” Hertweck said.

His low point was getting caught driving under the influence - twice. However, after 10 weeks in rehabilitation last year, he is now sober.

“I’m worlds away from where I was a year ago, and it’s awesome to be able to say that,” Hertweck said.

Hertweck has laid out the that process in his memoir,

His aim is to offer hope.

“The greatest thing I’ve heard from anybody is that it’s inspirational. Maybe this is a way my suffering can pay off for other people,” Hertweck said.

However, he says the pandemic does not help those who are already in a downward spiral.

“If this pandemic had happened about a year ago, when I was really at or near my bottom, it would have been very, very hard for me to handle,” Hertweck said.

“There is an increased level of normalization and even glorification of drinking,” he added. “Since everyone has been staying home, there’s been a huge uptick in memes surrounding day drinking, and making light of, oh, there’s a generation being raised by alcoholics now.”

One local business owner wants to shift the trend away from “Quarantinis.” Justin Yun is opening

, a hole-in-the wall mocktail bar in downtown Roanoke.

“We’ll be having mocktails and mocktinis,” Yun said. “My father is an alcoholic, and I basically wanted to provide a space for people who are recovering to come, enjoy, without the temptation.”

In addition to mocktails, the social space will offer snacks and desserts. Yun says they will avoid using traditional stem wear and other items that could trigger recovering alcoholics.

However, the grand opening for MiBr, originally set for this week, has been moved back to at least late July due to the pandemic.

Nearby at

, Steven Miller is taking part in a year-long recovery program.

“It’s a struggle, a life-long struggle, I’m beginning to realize. We’re learning to overcome it day by day,” Miller said.

His recovery coach, Brandi Van Curen, says feelings of isolation spurred by the pandemic have taken a toll on some.

“Since it started we’ve lost a lot of program participants and I know that a few have relapsed,” Van Curen said.

She notes that The Rescue Mission is one of the few places where people can still go to in-person meetings. While virtual meetings are important, Van Curen says it is hard to to quantify the value of speaking with someone in person about addiction.

Recently, The Rescue Mission has also started hosting guest speakers from Alcoholics Anonymous. With health precautions in place, it is a safe space to recover from addiction.

“I can only imagine how bad it is outside these walls,” Van Curen said.

For Miller, The Rescue Mission has meant a lifeline.

“I don’t know what I would do without it right now,” he said. “Especially in this pandemic. I’m sure there are a lot of people falling prey to a lot of things where usually they may not.”

Check out the links below for some resources for alcoholism recovery in the Roanoke Valley:

Copyright 2020 WDBJ7. All rights reserved.

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