So why might advisors be uncomfortable bringing up the topic of dependency and addiction? Koplin explained that one of the most common concerns advisors who seek her input express is that if they bring up the possibility the client may have a dependence on alcohol or drugs, they might lose the client.

“My response is, if your client depletes their wealth, you’re going to lose your client. If your client dies, you’re going to lose your client,” she said. “You need to deal with your client’s financial life. How can this not be part of their financial life? If someone were aging, you’d plan for that. Well, you need to plan for this, too.”

The Data Is Mounting
Back in 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Monthly Retail Trade statistics estimated that total beer, wine and liquor store sales—a reasonable proxy for measuring at-home drinking—tallied around $47.395 billion. That total grew at a fairly steady pace of just under $2 billion per year through 2019, when it reached $56.805 billion.

Then came 2020, the year when Stanley Tucci’s Negroni broke the internet, Zoom happy hours were bottomless and to-go booze cups kept restaurants alive in cities like New York, which until COVID-19 still held an archaic prohibition against drinking in public.

This was the year when beer, wine and liquor store sales jumped the equivalent of six years into the future, landing at $66.852 billion. And it looks like we’re still going strong. For January and February 2021, sales hit $10 billion, compared with the pre-pandemic $8.5 billion of 2020.

Sales aside, 27% of American adults reported binge drinking in April 2020, with binge drinking defined for men as having more than four drinks over a two-hour period, and for women as having more than three, according to “How Has Drinking Behavior Changed During the COVID-19 Pandemic?,” a research paper put out by the Research Triangle Institute. There was increased drug use as well, as 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with the pandemic, and there was an 18% increase in overdoses compared with the prior year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a national drug overdose reporting system called ODMAP.

Interestingly, the drinking rate among people who already self-identified as having a problem with alcohol barely changed at all—they were already at their maximum capacity, according to the Research Triangle Institute study. The “gains” in heavy drinking have been among people considered more average drinkers.

And during the early stages of the pandemic, who among drinkers began drinking more the most? People with children in the house. The number of drinks per day logged by those with kids increase almost 50% above pre-pandemic levels, while those without kids saw a modest uptick of roughly 10%.

All this free-flowing, at-home drinking, some of which may not have changed at all since March 2020 as many people continue to work from home, may be setting society in general up for a very rude awakening if habits that originated under extraordinary circumstances become the norm through nearly two years of practice in privacy.

“I would be hard pressed to find any advisor who would say they haven’t seen an uptick in substance abuse among their clients,” Seeber said. “And whether it’s the client or the child of a client, everyone is so isolated, not in contact, not talking in person. People feel helpless, feel like there’s nowhere to go.”

With the Delta surge through the fall and early winter, and now the unknowns of Omicron, the gains of normalcy over the summer seem to be receding rather quickly. There’s a new mist of despondency gathering, and despondency can be fertile ground for substance use becoming substance abuse.

On the last day before the public school holiday break in New York City, for example, some schools sent the students home with their remote-learning Chromebooks “just in case,” said one parent, who has been a work-from-home freelancer for 20 years and who said he barely coped the first time his 8-year-old son was connecting to school from his living room. “If my kid goes back to remote learning in January, I’m going to lose my mind.”

Stepping Up, Signs And Solutions
Perhaps because addiction seems so much more personal and intimate than heart disease or cancer, or perhaps because clients themselves are more secretive about it, many advisors with long practices have shied away from being the one to broach the topic in a client meeting.

It was the opportunity of helping his community that motivated Folkes to become an advisor in the first place, he said, and while he said he would address the impact of addiction from a planning perspective, he knows other advisors who would not bring it up with a client.