March 2, 2021

At-Risk Behaviors on the Rise During this Pandemic

Stressed? Develop some better coping mechanisms.

Alina M. Baltazar, Duane C. McBride, Gary L. Hopkins, & Peter N. Landless

The coronavirus is a worldwide challenge, a pandemic on a scale not seen since the 1918 global flu pandemic. With the exception of the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, virtually no one alive has coped with anything like this. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last or what the long-term economic impact will be.

Fortunately, vaccines with very high efficacy rates have been developed in an unprecedented short time line, but the global rollout is very slow, and thousands of people are still dying every day as a result of COVID-19.

People are stressed, and our usual coping tools may not be available now that a large number of us are staying home and, to some extent, cut off from many of our spiritual and social support networks. As a result, many are turning to harmful substances and behaviors as a way to help them cope with their new reality.

Harmful Coping Mechanisms

Beginning in early March 2020 a major alcohol distributor noticed alcohol sales increasing.¹ By March 21, 2020, Nielsen reported an increase of 55 percent in alcohol sales in the United States.² In Canada, 25 percent of those aged 35-54 are drinking more while at home.3 The World Health Organization has expressed concern about the consequences of a global increase in alcohol use during the long COVID-19 lockdown.4

Pornhub, a pornography website, reported a steady increase in the number of viewers during the month of March 2020 as lockdowns were instituted around the world. On March 17, 2020, traffic to the site rose 11.6 percent.5 Studies indicate that being faced with our own mortality prompts sexual desire and behavior as a coping mechanism, and this may drive some people to pornography.

Not only are a great number of us stressed, but our whole world is turned upside down. The usual external cues that guided our schedules and gave us purpose are thrown off. Many of us are currently not working and detached from friends and extended family members. Some people are bored, with lots of time on their hands. A large number of us cannot even attend church and receive the blessings of worshipping together. Our mental and spiritual health as well as our choices are strongly affected by our connectedness to others,⁶ and now our in-person social connectedness is broken.

A study done in Canada found that not having a regular schedule, boredom, and stress are the main reasons adults are consuming more alcohol during the pandemic.7 Because of the fear of the virus and the recommended use of alcohol to sanitize surfaces, some also believe that drinking alcohol will somehow protect them.8  Baseless counsel suggesting that alcohol or even alcohol disinfectant will destroy the virus in our bodies has been posted on social media and even hinted at by government officials, thereby adding to ineffective and sometimes harmful “treatments.”

High-Risk Behaviors

Some individuals are using porn not just because they’re bored or stressed during a lockdown, or restricted in interaction with others, but rather as a reaction to relationship problems. Being confined at home with our families long-term is resulting in those who had problematic relationships before the pandemic—or are having increased conflict as a result of growing stress—reporting more relationship dissatisfaction. Indicators of this are reports from China showing a spike in divorce filings since lockdown restrictions were lifted.9

Research has found that couple dissatisfaction puts individuals at risk of resorting to out-of-control pornography use.10 Even temporary increases in alcohol and pornography use can cause harm to self and family.

The following are harms caused by alcohol use, according to the World Health Organization:¹¹

  • Alcohol has effects on almost every organ of the body. There is no safe limit.
  • Alcohol weakens the immune system, making us more susceptible to COVID-19.
  • Alcohol, even in small quantities, has been shown to cause certain types of cancer.
  • Alcohol alters our thoughts, judgment, decision-making, and behavior.
  • Alcohol causes risk to an unborn child.
  • Alcohol increases the risk, frequency, and severity of violent behavior toward others.
  • Heavy alcohol use increases the risk of acute respiratory distress, a complication of COVID-19.
  • Alcohol use is known to increase symptoms of panic, anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Pornography harms us and our relationships in many ways, including the following:

  • Seventeen percent of regular pornography users report not being able to control their behavior.12
  • Regular pornography viewing in long-term relationships is associated with relationship demise.

What Can I Do?

It’s a good time while the pandemic is still with us to develop healthier coping techniques—now that our usual human, spiritual, and social support mechanisms are interrupted. Those who were social drinkers, for example, are drinking less because they’re not able to attend social gatherings.13 This is a good opportunity to let your concerns regarding the coronavirus motivate your desire to change. It’s important to be sober so that we can be vigilant about social distancing, wearing masks, not touching our face, and washing our hands frequently. Let’s improve our immune systems by decreasing our stress levels, getting enough sleep, strengthening our social connections through such electronic mechanisms as Zoom, and eating a healthful diet.14 This is easier said than done, but here are some tips to help you out:

  • Set a schedule and have a daily routine. Go to sleep about the same time every day.
  • Exercise regularly, especially outside when possible so you can benefit from fresh air and sunlight.
  • Eat a healthful diet at regular mealtimes. Plan your meals ahead of time. Allow yourself small snacks in-between meals, even the occasional treat.
  • Find new and creative ways to connect with others. God gave us one another for a reason. We must find ways to keep visual as well as audio connections with family and friends. A variety of Internet platforms allows us to do that.
  • Journal about this unique time in our history.
  • Do something creative: painting, creative writing, taking on a new home or yard project.
  • Use relaxation techniques to slow down your breathing and help decrease bodily tension. Carve out time daily for either a few longer relaxation periods, or multiple short ones.
  • Get to know your spouse and family members in your household in deeper ways. Discover their dreams for change after the pandemic is under control.
  • Have more compassion for yourself and your spouse, as well as for other family members in your household. We’re all going through a rough time.
  • Connect with your Sabbath School via platforms such as Zoom. Perhaps organize a Zoom Sabbath School. If possible, attend church services via the Internet.
  • Spend personal and family time with the Lord daily. This will strengthen you and your family’s sense of grounding in connecting with our all-powerful Creator, who knows what we’re going through. He is watching over us and will take care of us. Focus on what you have control of in your life, while claiming His promise: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:6).

The Bible tells us repeatedly not to fear, because God knows the enemy uses every tool he can to take away our hope. So remember also: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10, NKJV).15


  1. Rachel King, “How the On-Demand Liquor Delivery Business Changed Overnight During the Coronavirus Pandemic,” Fortune, Apr. 11, 2020, retrieved from https://fortune.com/2020/04/11/coronavirus-covid-19-liquor-delivery-sales/.
  2. Jade Bremner, “U.S. Alcohol Sales Increase 55 Percent in One Week Amid Coronavirus Pandemic,” Newsweek, Apr. 1, 2020, retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/.us-alcohol-sales-increase-55-percent-one-week-amid-coronavirus-pandemic-1495510.
  3. Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), Summary Report, April 2020, retrieved from https://www.ccsa.ca/covid-19-and-increased-alcohol-consumption-nanos-poll-summary-report.
  4. World Health Organization (WHO), “Alcohol and COVID-19: What You Need to Know,” 2020, retrieved from http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/437608/Alcohol-and-COVID-19-what-you-need-to-know.pdf.
  5. Justin J. Lehmiller, “How the Pandemic Is Changing Pornography,” Psychology Today, Mar. 23, 2020, .
  6. Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), Summary Report, April 2020, retrieved from https://www.ccsa.ca/covid-19-and-increased-alcohol-consumption-nanos-poll-summary-report.
  7. World Health Organization (WHO), “Alcohol and COVID-19: What You Need to Know,” 2020, retrieved from http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/437608/Alcohol-and-COVID-19-what-you-need-to-know.pdf.
  8. Justin J. Lehmiller, “How the Pandemic Is Changing Pornography,” Psychology Today, Mar. 23, 2020, retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-myths-sex/202003/how-the-pandemic-is-changing-pornography.
  9. Gary L. Hopkins, Duane C. McBride, Helen Hopp Marshak, M. C. Freier, J. Stevens, W. Kannenberg, J. Weaver, S. Sargent, and Peter Landless, “Developing Healthy Kids in Healthy Communities: Eight Evidence-based Strategies for Preventing High-Risk Behaviors,” Medical Journal of Australia 186 (2007): S70-S73.
  10. Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
  11. World Health Organization.
  12. Sheridan Prasso, “China’s Divorce Spike Is a Warning to Rest of Locked-down World,” Bloomberg, Mar. 31, 2020,retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-31/divorces-spike-in-china-after-coronavirus-quarantines.
  13. M. E. Daspe, M. P. Vaillancourt-Morel, Y. Lussier, S. Sabourin, and A. Ferron, “When Pornography Use Feels Out of Control: The Moderation Effect of Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 44,  no. 4 (2018): 343-353.
  14. World Health Organization.
  15. J. A. Cooper, D. L. Delmonico, and R. Burg, “Cybersex Users, Abusers, and Compulsiveness: New Findings and Implications,” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 7, no. 1-2 (2000): 5-29.
  16. Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
  17. Lauren Muhlheim, “Emotional Eating During COVID-19 Pandemic,” Very Well Mind, Apr. 13, 2020, retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/emotional-eating-during-covid-19-pandemic-4802077.
  18. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Alina M. Baltazar, associate professor of social work, codirects the Institute for the Prevention of Addictions (IPA) at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.
Duane C. McBride, senior research professor of sociology, Andrews University, is executive director of the IPA.
Gary L. Hopkins, research professor at Andrews University, codirects the IPA and directs the Center for Prevention Research.
Peter N. Landless leads the Health Ministries Department at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Alina M. Baltazar, Duane C. McBride, Gary L. Hopkins, & Peter N. Landless
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