Lockdown drinking: beware a 'new normal' in the making
The Covid-19 lockdown has changed all our routines including our patterns of alcohol consumption. Alcohol sales have soared by nearly 300% globally in the last 6 weeks and online alcohol retailers have been overwhelmed by orders as people have been stockpiling. What was occasional drinking may now be a new normal daily ritual. Without the usual routines and the responsibilities that go with turning up to work each day, it's easy to drink more. It can feel like there is permission to start drinking earlier in the day or drink alone. With people working from home it's easier than ever to start relying on alcohol as an anxiety or stress coping strategy. Disrupted daily routines can lead to disrupted sleep patterns and alcohol can become a ‘go-to’ in the effort to get off to sleep. Some people may not be comfortable with where they are going in terms of their drinking patterns and are concerned that it is becoming problematic or that they will struggle to revert to normal drinking habits post lockdown. Others may already be struggling with the negative consequences of over drinking or worried about the long term effects.
For anyone concerned that their drinking has taken an unhealthy turn don’t be too hard on yourself as it is one of several familiar coping strategies that people will have been turning to during what has been and is, a very stressful, anxious and bewildering time. We've had to adapt to it in a very short space of time whilst fearful of the long term impact on the economy and our livelihoods. It’s a perfect storm for unhealthy drinking patterns.
Such habits can develop rapidly and the more you drink the more your tolerance to alcohol increases which means you increasingly need to consume more to create the same effect. Left unchecked this can result in dependency and withdrawal symptoms.
Signs of unhealthy drinking to look out for include:
- Escalation of the amount consumed or frequency of use; drinking earlier in the day; drinking stronger drinks. You are using alcohol to avoid or medicate difficult feelings.
- It's costing you more than money….for example, hangovers, arguments, broken sleep, relationship problems, getting in the way of things you enjoy doing, interfering with your work performance and taking precedence over responsibilities etc.
- You find yourself thinking about it on a regular basis…looking forward or fantasising about your first drink.
- Hiding your drinking…hiding your drink or being secretive or misleading about your consumption. Avoiding company.
- Concern of family & friends. People that know you well will often notice the difference before you do or despite how well you believe you can hide it.
- You are on the defensive when concerned others say what they have noticed or express concern.
If you are concerned that you are drinking too much and your relationship to alcohol has morphed into an unhealthy one, you can take the Drinkaware online self-assessment to learn more about the impact your consumption may be having on you.
You could also try some of the following strategies:
- Aim for at least three alcohol-free days a week. Stick to 14 units a week or less. Drink from a smaller glass. Drink mindfully. Ask yourself, 'do I want this drink? Do I need this drink? Or am I drinking out of habit?'
- Avoid drinking alone. If you’re living alone during lockdown why not arrange a chat over a drink via a video meet-up.
- Have a routine. Build structure into your day that involves both ‘doing’ and ‘being’ time. Maintain those important parts of your life. Develop a regular exercise routine. Connect with nature in your garden or out on your daily exercise hour. Keep your regular sleep patterns. Go to bed and get up at the same time as if you were going to work. Get dressed.
- Build healthy coping strategies to soothe stress and anxiety. Discover what other ways can you relax and treat yourself that doesn’t include alcohol.
- Talk to someone; be open with those close to you. Consider talking to a professional.
- Be honest with yourself and acknowledge any unhealthy trend.
NB. Its really important to say that if you have been drinking heavily over a period of time you may have become alcohol dependent. To stop drinking abruptly can be very dangerous and it is important to seek the help of a medical professional to reduce consumption safely.
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