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Alcohol & You: during COVID19

Minding our Alcohol Consumption and our Mental Health during the coronavirus outbreak

April 2020

It’s believed that 50% of adults in Ireland report alcohol consumption as a means of ‘coping’. And 58% of young adults report using alcohol as a way to cheer up.

There’s no doubt that these are stressful times. As the social restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic continue, anxiety about the virus and the stress of lockdown can have a big impact on mental wellbeing.  To counter this, many of us may find ourselves drinking more than usual or using substances to cope with anxiety, boredom, loneliness, stress and our changing environment.

But let’s look at alcohol, our relationship with it and how that relationship may be changing or developing doing this pandemic.  Has our alcohol consumption crept up at all?  From a couple of nights at the weekend to every evening, or earlier in the day? Do we need to check our intake at all? Do we need to “flatten the curve” of our alcohol consumption before we develop habits that will be hard to reverse?

The brakes are off with alcohol at home

Alcohol is still widely available, just not in pubs, clubs or restaurants which are currently closed. In Ireland, there are no new restrictions imposed on us for buying alcohol to enjoy at home. We may be able to buy only one bottle of hand sanitiser at a time, but we can still buy a slab of beer or a case of wine or a litre bottle of spirits, often at discounted prices. 

Where normally we might visit the pub at the weekend, or stop after 2 pints, when we are drinking at home, the brakes are off.  There’s no closing time in the home.

Are you making excuses?

Evenings are getting brighter, weather is warming up, we can’t go out to socialise, we’re feeling stressed, but we can have a drink at home. 

There’s plenty of excuses we might make for opening another bottle on a Monday night. But regardless, allowing ourselves to slide into a new and more regular routine with alcohol is not in our best interests, now or ever.

The downside

We all know that alcohol contributes to a loss of inhibitions. This can often lead to conflict and misunderstanding too. In close quarters during a lockdown with family or housemates, no matter how well you all get on, tensions can become strained if alcohol plays too big a role in someone’s life. 

Alcohol is also a depressant and so can be a dangerous combination for someone already feeling low, depressed or in suicidal crisis. Existing issues and problems can be magnified or appear overwhelming seen through a lens of alcohol.  

In addition, excessive alcohol consumption has also been proven to weaken the immune system, something which is especially important for us all during a global pandemic.

Start today. Don’t put it off till tomorrow.

Be alcohol aware and be mindful of your mental / physical health during this time.  Here are some tips to help you along the way:

  • Give yourself some alcohol-free nights or cut-out alcohol completely. Consider this when planning your week.
  • Even better, remove alcohol from your shopping list for the moment.
  • Have plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives within easy reach in the house.
  • Store any alcohol out of sight. 
  • Don’t stockpile alcohol. We’re more likely to reach for a drink if it’s to hand. Same for choccies & biscuits too!
  • Drink plenty of water.  If you are having a few drinks, drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink. 
  • Keep a perspective on what you drink and keep to recommended guidelines. 
  • 2 standard drinks a day maximum recommended for healthy men & women.  No more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces risk of alcohol-related injury.
  • Remember some drinks contain more than one standard measure. So be honest in calculating your intake e.g. big glass of wine compared to standard measure of wine…

 

Say No.  

  • If  you feel you’ve already had too much, don’t feel under pressure from companions to accept a drink.  
  • Avoid topping drinks up: it’s very easy to lose count of how many you have had.
  • Even if you feel okay the next morning, take it slow and don’t put pressure on yourself to do anything immediately. This will help ease any anxiety or negative feelings associated with drinking or having a hangover. 
  • Never ever drink and drive.

 

A bit of planning can help

Be honest with yourself. If you feel alcohol is playing too important a role in your COVID19 Lockdown, take some time to plan your week.  Consider alternatives to spend the time you might otherwise pass having a few drinks:

  • Create a list of activities to do instead: podcasts, books, or start a craft or DIY project you’ve been putting off. There’s lots of resources that are now available free during the Coronavirus lockdown – everything from study courses to free book downloads. Lots of subscription services have made their content freely available now. You can learn to play the guitar or watch a west end play.  See the #Giveback Directory for a full list of products and services that are now free. 
  • Keep active: Get out for a daily walk within your 2km zone. While we all need to practice social distancing and protective hygiene measures, we still need fresh air and exercise.  Try different routes. Try one you haven’t done for ages.
  • Join a morning online workout. It’ll get your day off to a great start. It may also motivate you not to have that drink the night before.
  • Talk & text: Check in with friends and family as much as you can by phone, video, text or social media. Keeping in touch can positively impact your mood and ability to deal with problems.
  • Arrange a Virtual Social event over Zoom or another video conferencing platform. It could be a Quiz Night, Come Dine with Me or just a cuppa.  You’ll be amazed at the buzz you’ll get out of a bit of a social, even if it is a virtual one.
  • Cook a healthy meal: Take the extra time at home to try out a new recipe. A balanced nutritious diet is just as important for mental health as it is for physical health.
  • Declutter: let’s face it, if you don’t do it now, you never will. 
  • Volunteer. Check out your local Volunteer hub for opportunities to volunteer within your community.

 

Break the habit: Schedule in Distractions

Letting your drinking creep up is creating a new habit.  But we can break habits.  If 5pm is your trigger to have a G&T, schedule in something else to do at that time.  Make that the time you ring an elderly relative or a friend, or start making a home cooked meal around that time.  If it’s earlier in the day, head out on a long walk within your 2km.  Clear your head. Find other things to occupy and to distract yourself around your trigger time. If that’s not possible, there’s plenty of lovely recipes for alcohol-free Mocktails.

Need support?

If you are concerned that you have a problem with drinking, or that someone in your life does, visit the HSE website AskAboutAlcohol.

Contact the HSE Helpline for support on 1800 459 459 from Monday to Friday between 9:30am and 5:30pm or email helpline@hse.ie  

If violence arises in your home contact Women’s Aid 1800 341 900

For HSE information on minding your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak visit HSE Website.

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