Navigating the lockdown measures of COVID-19 has been a tense and demanding process for the population; resulting in many resorting to increased alcohol intake. Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, focuses on how you can help individuals stay on top of their drinking behaviour.
The way that people are drinking alcohol has changed in lockdown. Even as lockdown eases, pubs, restaurants and bars have been closed or restricted for a long time, and face-to-face meeting, and any accompanying drinking, has become a lot less frequent. We’ve shifted from drinking in person to moving all our meetings online. But has this had an effect on how much we’re drinking?
Research we at Alcohol Change UK conducted two weeks after social distancing measures were put in place found that more than one-in-five (21 per cent) adults who drink alcohol are drinking more often since lockdown began. But one-in-three of those who drink (35 per cent) have reduced how often they drink or stopped drinking altogether. On the surface this seems positive, but those numbers are hiding something else: the people who were drinking the least are more likely to have cut down or stopped drinking altogether, and those who were drinking the most are the least likely to have done so.
Managing your drinking is a key part of looking after your mental and physical health – which is all the more important during lockdown. The UK’s chief medical officers recommend drinking 14 units per week or less. That’s about a bottle-and-a-half of wine or six pints of four per cent beer, spread out over three or more days and with a few days off in between.
Here are some tips for helping individuals manage their drinking:
Look After your General Mental Health
As mentioned above, this is an incredibly stressful time, and many of us turn to alcohol when we’re feeling stressed, anxious or low. But alcohol can make mental health worse; it’s been linked to worsened symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other conditions. For that reason, one of the most important things you can do to stay on top of your drinking is to look after your general mental health. Different things work for different people, but advice and resources can be found on the NHS Every Mind Matters website.
Work out Other Ways to Relax, Unwind and Have Fun
Some of us find ourselves having a drink after a stressful day. But since unwinding can feel hard to do at the moment and stress increases, we might be drinking a little more than we’re used to. We might also use alcohol to distinguish between ‘work time’ and ‘fun time’. To stop this from becoming a habit, it’s important to find some good alcohol-free treats too.
Keep Track of Your Drinking
With normal routines disrupted and stress levels heightened, people might find themselves drinking more without realising. There are tools available to help you keep track of your drinking if you’re worried about it getting out of hand or considering making a change.
Our drink-tracking app is called Try Dry, and it can be used to track your alcohol intake with charts and graphs, plus see your units, calories and money saved when you cut down. If people prefer not to use an app, a physical drinking diary is also a good idea.
On our website you can find an AUDIT quiz which people can use to check their drinking risk score. This is a great place to start for those considering making a change to their drinking – the quiz only takes a few minutes to complete, and gives a good indication of how harmful someone’s drinking is.
For those in recovery or sober and receiving support there might be concerns about receiving ongoing support under ‘social distancing’ measures. Or, for those who would like to seek support now but haven’t before, they might be wondering how to go about this.
Treatment services across the country are making their support available remotely, so there are lots of great options open to you online or over the phone. AA, SMART Recovery, Drinkline and We are With You are some of the organisations you can contact. You can find more information, including their contact details and opening times, on our website. There are also links to support for those affected by a loved one’s drinking.
For very heavy or dependent drinkers who want to cut down during lockdown, it’s important that this is done safely and with support, as otherwise they could suffer from alcohol withdrawal. This can be very dangerous and even fatal, so it’s important to recognise the signs. Some common symptoms include sweating, shaking (especially in the hands), and headaches. Some more severe symptoms include seizures, hallucinations, unsteadiness and confusion. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, urgent medical attention is needed and 999 should be called immediately.
The easing of lockdown will come with pressures and stresses of its own. Most of the above advice about managing your drinking applies post-lockdown as well as during. The key thing is to keep an eye on your drinking and ask for support if you need it.
For more information, visit www.alcoholchange.org.uk.