You’re stuck at home, you’re stressed, and you’ve got a cupboard full of booze. It’s tempting to drink more than usual during the coronavirus lockdown – there’s a communal sense that we “deserve it” for getting through this tough time, plus it’s harder for your boss to detect a hangover on Skype.
But the World Health Organisation has labelled drinking alcohol an “unhelpful” coping strategy for dealing with the stress of isolation and social distancing – a sentiment echoed by the charity Drinkaware.
“Alcohol is best avoided when you’re anxious,” Drinkaware’s CEO, Elaine Hindal, tells HuffPost UK. ”It’s actually a depressant, and it can interfere with processes in the brain that are important for good mental health, as well as contribute to symptoms of severe depression.”
Alcohol also impairs judgement, so drinking more than you usually would may lead to accidents and therefore place an extra burden on health services during this stretched time.
“For example, with drinking one too many while cooking, it’s common to need hospital treatment after burning your arm badly on the oven,” says Hindal. “Every year, thousands of avoidable accidents and injuries are attributable to alcohol.”
Drinking heavily may also contribute towards you becoming particularly vulnerable to infections such as coronavirus, Hindal adds. “That’s because alcohol can suppress a range of immune responses, and this is particularly the case for people who drink very heavily and regularly,” she says.
“Your body’s natural defences against infections may be compromised by excessive alcohol use and this could make you more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.”
So, we know why we should cut down – but how do you actually do it if you’ve slipped into the evening wine habit? Laura Willoughby, co-founder of the mindful drinking movement Club Soda, gave us five tips.
1. Play it forward. “You may not have control over the lockdown, but you’re in control of how you react to it,” says Willoughby. “Look ahead to who you want to be when this is all over, and focus on the bigger picture. Where do you want your life to be in 12 months? What role does alcohol play in this vision of the future you?”
2. Add some alcohol-free drinks to your shop. You don’t have to ditch booze altogether, but save it for occasions such as the weekend to help maintain a routine and keep your consumption in check, says Willoughby. Getting some alcohol-free drinks in to kick back in the evenings will help.
“The range of craft beers, spirits and wines are amazing and you can pick them up directly from the producers or from online stores like Wisebartender, as well as the supermarkets,” she says. “Now is a great time to try out what’s on offer and find a new favourite tipple to help you moderate for the long-term.”
3. Set some boundaries. If you’ve got alcohol in the house, find a new home for it, such as the garage or on top of the wardrobe, so it’s less visible and accessible in your daily routine.
“Have some clear rules about when you’re allowed to drink – like no drinking when stressed or sad, or only drink with evening meals – and lengthen your drinks, keeping to single serves with lots of tonic or spritzers to dial down the strength,” adds Willoughby.
“It’s easy to slip into new bad habits so having firm boundaries will keep alcohol in its place.”
4. Talk about it. If you feel like you’re slipping into bad habits, speak to your partner, friend or family member about it. They might be able to offer advice, or share how they’re managing to cope.
Similarly, if you’ve got a partner or other family member who is drinking a lot, talk to them about what you’re doing to keep your consumption in check, says Willoughby.
You could offer to help a partner or housemate with their health goals, she adds. Make a project of finding new things to do together that don’t involve drinking.
5. Get a helping hand. It’s important to recognise when our booze habits are teetering on dependancy. Signs it’s getting out of hand include finding it hard to stop at two drinks, wanting to drink early in the morning, and physical symptoms of withdrawal such as sweating, shaking and nausea.
Or, if you did a huge booze shop because you were frightened of it running out and you’re struggling to avoid it, now might be a good time to address that feeling, says Willoughby. There are resources to help you do this.
“Maybe a course like Club Soda’s Mindful Drinking programmes could help guide you through the next few weeks,” she says. Alternatively, Drinkaware has an online self-assessment that can help you identify if your relationship with alcohol is about right, or if the amount you drink is risky to your health.
“We would urge anyone who is worried about someone else’s drinking to contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 or talk to a trained advisor anonymously online via Drinkchat,” says Hindal.