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How has lockdown impacted alcohol consumption?

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

It is true that the UK has a long history as being a nation that enjoys a tipple of two, in fact, there is evidence of ceramic beer jugs dating back 12,000 years!

Interestingly, more than 9 million people in England drink more than the recommended daily limits and in 2019 there were 7,551 alcohol-related deaths. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, alcohol made up 10% of the UK burden of disease and death, making it one of the 3 most significant lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity. It is estimated that 7.5 million people are unaware of the damage their drinking could be causing.

I have noticed a surge of enquiries from those wishing to get some help with reducing the amount of alcohol consumed, and I wondered how the Covid-19 lockdown has impacted the nations drinking habits.

Unsurprisingly, according to a survey commission by Alcohol Change UK, our drinking habits have changed and sales in the UK rose by 22% in March 2020.

For centuries, alcohol has been used as a way of helping us feel better and with the extraordinary pressures of the pandemic lockdown, it is not hard to understand why drinking rates have risen. Lives have been turned upside down and alcohol has been a constant for many. We have all had to climb the steepest mountain of adjustment, some may find that they are on the front line of this war against this invisible entity, whilst others may find themselves holed up with family members 24/7, whilst trying to manage working from home, or attempting to home-school the children. Some may use it as a way of comforting isolation or loneliness or blotting out the worry of work and money related issues.

There are, of course, many and varied reasons. But the trouble with using alcohol as a crutch to ease stress and emotional burdens, is that its feel-good effects are short-lived, and drinking as a coping mechanism (which may initially be intended as a short-term fix) can become a long-term habit and lead to significant physical and mental health problems.

It is well documented of the physical effects that booze has on our bodies and excessive alcohol consumption, over time, can lead to the development of life long diseases and other serious problems including:

• High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems

• Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, and colon

• Learning and memory problems, including dementia

• Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety

• Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.

• Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.

• Interrupted / poor sleep – impacts coping ability

But it is not commonly known, that excessive alcohol consumption has a significant impact on our immune system.

Our ability to fight off infection is lowered, which, during this global health crisis is, I’m sure you’ll agree, pretty relevant.

Research carried out in Italy suggests that even moderate drinking, could increase the risk of being infected with Covid-19 and that it may also aggravate the infection.

Other potential harms from over drinking, may not be considered at all. These can include accidents, fires, arguments and physical or emotional conflict.

I wonder how much peer-pressure is playing a role? Because we cannot go out to bars and pubs and drink socially with our friends in the real world, a new online drinking craze has developed. Groups of friends have set up Zoom happy hours and social media is plastered (excuse the pun) with photos of our friends enjoying their ‘quarantinis’ and these, at some level, can be seen to give us permission and justify drinking, even when we know, deep down, that it’s not wholly beneficial to our wellbeing.

Interestingly, rather than reduce anxiety in the medium term, alcohol actually makes anxiety worse.

The survey that Alcohol Change UK commissioned shows that those who drank little or infrequently before lockdown, have reduced their consumption further, worryingly, however is that around 21% reported that they have been drinking more frequently, which works out at approximately 8.6 million UK adults drinking are more often during lockdown. The survey also points at those that are drinking more often are also drinking more in volume on a typical drinking day and those who booze daily, have further increased the amount that they consume.

Encouragingly, the story has a hopeful outlook. There seems to be a growing number of people (around 38% of those questioned) who are taking action to moderate their drinking during lockdown and are working at keeping their drinking within sensible limits.

Results showed that people are:

• Committing to alcohol-free days

• Being consciously aware of the amount of alcohol they buy

• Stopping consuming alcohol completely during lockdown

• Getting support online

• Attending virtual support groups

• Receiving 1-1 counselling

Peoples relationship with alcohol can be complicated, but managing our drinking is one of the most significant things that we can do to look after our mental and physical wellbeing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is clear that increased alcohol consumption is a symptom of many challenging and complicated factors and some of us will find cutting down fairly straight forward. However, for others 1:1 support may be necessary as the desire to drink more than is healthy over a protracted period of time, can become an emotional habit which can be tricky to break free from.

It is with this in mind, that I have designed a 3 part Reduce Alcohol Consumption Program where I can help you break free of that habit so that alcohol intake reduces to a more moderate and acceptable level – find out more.

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