COVID-19 has had, and will continue to have, wide ranging repercussions on every aspect of our lives. Most dramatically, the preliminary research on COVID-19’s impact on our mental health has been startling. Time reported a shocking 700% surge in reports of mental distress compared with pre-pandemic levels. With increased stress, anxiety, and fear—and with happy hours starting earlier and in isolation—an increasing number of people are resorting to drinking more, smoking more, or using more recreational drugs.
A few good laughs
We have all seen, laughed at, and taken comfort in memes about the new level of drinking (and other hobbies) sweeping across America. Some popular drinking-related ones include:
I don’t know who needs to hear this but, Quarantine Rules are Airport Rules, have a drink at 9am if you want to.
— Jason Mustian (@jasonmustian) March 16, 2020
My quarantine routine:
7 AM: wake up
8 AM: wake up, this time for real 🙂
9 AM: self sabotage
3 PM: send an email—just kidding!
4 PM: yoga/prayer/meditation
4:01 PM: drinking, smoking, and sending nude photos
9 PM: Lights out! 😜 Read doomsday articles until 5 AM
— joey b 😀 (@joecastlebaker) March 19, 2020
And, of course, Ina Garten’s tutorial on how to make a quarantini.
You’re not alone
It is important to recognize that your feelings are valid, that you’re certainly not alone, and that you should use appropriate coping mechanisms and seek help, as needed. Drinking wine, beer, or White Claws in moderation to unwind or socialize is great, but if you have a security clearance—in fact, even if you don’t have one— morning martinis and Ina’s cocktail aren’t healthy coping mechanisms. Moreover, with the lines between work and home blurred during our current teleworking, adjudicators may consider that type of behavior akin to “reporting for work or duty in an intoxicated or impaired condition, drinking on the job[.]” (From Guideline G of the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines, commonly referred to as Security Executive Directive 4, or SEAD 4.)
The effects on your security clearance
Using illegal drugs—even if legal on a state level, such as marijuana or medical marijuana—are not a reasonable method of handling a mental health crisis. Even properly prescribed drugs, if misused, could result in security clearance issues. Therefore, it is imperative that you work closely with your healthcare professional in managing medication or changing doses. While rapidly gaining in popularity, CBD oil, gels, or lotions—promising to help ease anxiety and are widely sold (you can grab pricey Lord Jones lotions and oils at Sephora)—are not currently accepted by the Department of Defense or any other federal agency. Given its unregulated nature, CBD could still result in a positive drug test, and it will be difficult to demonstrate that you were simply using CBD and not THC. (Read more about CBD and security clearances here and here.)
A big concern among members of the cleared community is a fear of seeking professional care, because they are worried that certain diagnoses will preclude their ability to hold their clearances. These include alcohol use disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence have been making efforts to dispel this myth, expressly stating that “getting help for a psychological issue is a sign of strength. Speaking up can be a sign of good judgment, responsible behavior and a commitment to performance.” Ultimately, it is better for you and national security to seek treatment or counseling and carefully abide by treatment plans if prescribed.