The day I turned 16 I got a job at the best restaurant in town. Granted, it was a local Mexican restaurant nestled inside a motel built for truckers and was on its way to being condemned. But for my quaint town in the middle of Missouri, there was no finer dining establishment. 

And to be quite honest, the food was delicious. But then again, anything deep fried or covered in melted queso is hard to argue with. The gig was great, my coworkers were friendly and I virtually met the whole town during my time serving tables at El Vaquero. Plus, the cash flow was that in which I had never experienced. I was hooked. 

Since leaving my hometown, serving tables to get by has become second nature. Anybody that has been a server or bartender would likely agree, the money can just be ridiculous. The first time you sit back and realize you just made close to a hundred dollars an hour in a night is pretty much the closest thing to nirvana for a 19-year-old. 

Today, I’m a couple years older and hold more years of experience under my serving apron, including actual fine dining experience and a vast array of industry knowledge. But ironically, I am, at this time, not employed as a server because of the coronavirus outbreak.

That statement was probably the most dystopian sentence I have ever written that was entirely true. Yes, many restaurants in the United States of America have been ordered to shut their doors. We are in the middle of a pandemic that could possibly be guiding us into a period darker than the Great Depression. 

Anybody else need a drink?  

COVID-19 has changed our world. There’s no denying it. I mean face it, we are all living in social isolation to stop the spread of a virus and we have no concrete idea as to when life will resume back to normal. Unimaginable amounts of people will be unemployed, retirements wiped clean, thousands of businesses shutting their doors forever and loved ones sick, or worse, dying.

With all the uncertainty we face, and in my stir-crazy state, I can't help but think about the challenges COVID-19 will bring to our health care system, governments, local businesses and those who, like me, have found themselves without their income for the foreseeable future. 

Though, two unique challenges keep pestering my mind in particular. The first one appeared to me during my third glass of wine at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday (a time I’m usually productive i.e., working or doing homework). The thought was this: does a nation on lockdown breed a new wave of alcoholism? 

The closest time period I could think of to dive deeper into this question was the Great Recession of 2008. One study I looked at, published in 2013, concluded there was an increase in abstention from alcohol yet a spike in binge drinking. I can personally attest to the latter.

More localized sources, including the likes of the Atlanta Business Chronicle and PennLive, which published articles in 2009 and 2008 respectively, cited the alcohol industry thriving in tough economic times. 

It’s clear that being inside causes us to seek different forms of self-entertainment. And I’ll be the first to admit that consuming alcohol is an easy go-to for a fun time. We can’t go to the bar so we add an extra six pack or bottle of wine to our cart at the grocery store. Doomsday preppers, but let’s make it a drinking game. 

With this period of social distancing and a quarantine lifestyle, will it be easier for us to slip into the throes of alcoholism? Only time will tell. 

My second concern rested with those who are already living with addiction and mental health concerns. With the public being directed to stay inside, businesses closed and millions now working from home, I can’t help but wonder about those who will not have access to their support groups or counseling services. 

Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Debbie Stebenow (D-Mich.) published a compelling bi-partisan piece over the weekend that highlighted the need for expansions of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic in the net emergency fund passed by Congress. 

CCBHC expansion would allow for greater access to treatment covering a variety of mental health issues, including addiction services. In addition, CCBHC’s feature a telehealth component. Telehealth is an emerging and critical market to the health care system that will assist in flattening the curve against COVID-19.

Bi-partisan efforts like this are what the country needs more of right now. It will allow for us to work together and think outside of the box so we can get the world going again. And, it will allow us to protect our most vulnerable citizens in the meantime. 

Another hopeful insight on those who may be without their usual recovery routine was something I saw on Facebook. Alcoholics Anonymous has gone virtual. It allows those with access to the proper technology the ability to connect with support groups so they do not have to be alone through these times that, for lack of a better way to put it, make getting drunk look really appealing. 

If one thing is clear it’s that life is going to be different from here on out. Hope is the essential key to get through this. Think twice about cracking a cold one or pouring yourself a stiff drink if you realize it’s getting a little out of hand. And, not to sound like a country music song here, remember you can’t find hope at the bottom of a bottle.

A silver lining emerging out of all of this is that we have the opportunity to unite like never before. We now understand the vital need to support our local restaurants and businesses. To give a generous tip to the twenty year old serving you food and drinks all night when all they are thinking about is their economics exam tomorrow. The beauty in simply being able to shake somebody’s hand.

The things we don’t even think about, like your neighbor who is scared she might relapse without access to her addiction treatment. We now see the importance of preparing in advance for the unthinkable to happen. And hopefully after all of this is over, we all come out better people because of it.