June 10, 2021 – The last time Christina Kimbrough had a drink was Feb. 3, 2020. The 32-year-old writer and grad student, who readily identifies as an alcoholic, checked into an intensive outpatient treatment center in Cleveland last winter. The coronavirus lockdown hit on her last day of therapy, and she was abruptly sent home to Chesapeake, Virginia.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings had shut down. A hand sanitizer shortage left people stockpiling bottles of vodka. Between April and June 2020, booze sales were up 34 percent from the previous year. One Johns Hopkins poll found that 60 percent of respondents were drinking more than usual in response to the pandemic.  It was, as Kimbrough put it, “a very weird time to get sober.”

Her support systems dried up. AA moved to Zoom, which helped, but was no perfect substitute for real-life meetings. But there was one unintended lifeline: Bars shut down.  “I wouldn’t say I’m having cravings to drink, but I’m struggling with resentment that I can’t drink like a normal person,” she said. “Normally, you navigate going out with friends and not drinking early on in sobriety, but I didn’t have that choice. I’m almost 500 days sober, but I’m struggling more now 500 days in than I was in early sobriety.”  For many people before the pandemic (and not just those who define themselves as alcoholics), quitting drinking meant leaving behind social spaces like bars and parties for a while, and returning once they had a better grip on their sobriety. It was a deeply personal decision. “At a certain point, someone who is sober and has benefitted from taking a break from being around alcohol is going to find themselves going back to an environment where it’s available,” Matt Lundquist, a New York psychotherapist and founder of Tribeca Therapy, said. “What’s new with the pandemic is how dramatic and binary that feels now—there are a lot of people going through this all at once.”



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