Sixteen months into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still so much to learn about the calamitous effects this health crisis has had on our society. The collective loss we’ve faced has left no area of our lives untouched, impacting our economy, food systems, and public health — and thrusting mental health into the public consciousness in a way it had never been before. Suddenly, we were not only facing a pandemic, but preparing for a mental health epidemic, too. So many struggling through grief, job insecurity, and the stress and anxiety of social isolation at the beginning of lockdown searched for ways to cope — and drinking was one of them.
One study found that college students who reported higher levels of stress and anxiety were also increasing their alcohol use. In a fall 2020 study by JAMA Network Open, it was found that Americans had upped their alcohol consumption by 14% compared to 2019, with women exhibiting a 41% increase over the baseline. The rise in women’s alcohol consumption means a higher, more dangerous risk of life-threatening conditions such as liver disease, as well as substance use dependency.
On a recent episode of Red Table Talk, co-hosts Jada Pinkett-Smith, Willow Smith, and Adrienne Banfield-Norris (affectionately known as Gammy), dive into this topic, sharing their own personal connections and experiences with excessive drinking. Featured on the show was Khadi Olagoke, founder of the Sober Black Girls Club.
When Olagoke graduated from law school, she was not mentally prepared for life after college. Olagoke’s sense of identity was shaken, and she experienced depression as the pressures rose at work, where there was already a drinking culture instilled in the social settings of her law firm. Olagoke began to drink excessively. It wasn’t until 2018, through therapy, that she confronted her dependence on alcohol and sought help and recovery for alcohol use.
When lockdown enforced social distancing requirements across the nation in early 2020, this included shutting down in-person Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. As everyone tried to adjust to the strange pace of quarantine, Olagoke witnessed a trend.
“The drinking culture once we were in quarantine… a lot of us did not know how long it was going to last,” Olagoke tells Teen Vogue. “We thought it was just going to be a really quick thing. On Instagram, I’m seeing a lot of drinking challenges, on Facebook, Twitter, just pictures of people drinking with bottles [and] bottles.”
Soon after, Olagoke created the Sober Black Girls Club, a non-profit organization and community for Black women like herself who were currently seeking support for alcohol use during a time when isolation was heightened. The Sober Black Girls Club met virtually, doubling in size by May 2020. Today, the group has over 600 members.
“Folks don’t understand that the more you drink, the longer you drink, day to day, your body’s going to crave more and more alcohol to the point where when you want to stop, you’re not going to be able to stop or you’re going to have difficulty stopping. And I learned that firsthand in 2018,” says Olagoke.
The Sober Black Girls Club offers a range of resources to its women-identifying and non-binary members, offering virtual meetings, an active mentorship program, a private support group, and a blog. As vaccinations are becoming more accessible and cities begin their reopening phases, the SBGC is even expanding offline, holding meet-ups in New York City, Los Angeles, D.C., and London. There’s also a medical fund that helps members who want to seek rehab receive the quality healthcare they deserve.