Top Tips For Those Drinking More Than Usual During Isolation
Like many of you, I’m currently spending way too much time online; scrolling endlessly through Twitter, browsing through countless daft Facebook groups in search of a quick laugh.
I’ve noticed a recurring – and very British – theme with many of these jokes. The idea that we are all currently drinking our cares away in our respective living rooms; sipping big glasses of wine in front of Netflix and stocking up on the vodka during our grocery runs.
Drinking too much during a time of crisis has long been something of a national joke, perhaps illustrated best by the oft-quoted – and now totally non-advisable – Shaun of The Dead plan to ‘go to The Winchester, have a nice cold pint and wait for this all to blow over’.
Alcohol jokes are a coping mechanism and, in many cases, a reference point that provides a common ground. In offices across the land, under usual circumstances it’s not uncommon to hear someone pining for a beer after a stressful morning; the refrain of ‘I need a drink’ raising companionable titters.
As things currently stand however, the social element has been stripped from British drinking culture altogether.
There is no dancing at 3am, no belting out The Fratellis and The Arctic Monkeys with the smell of rum and coke on your breath. There are no chance meetings or house party pre-drinks, or Sunday afternoons spent in the pub in front of the footy.
Strip it all away, and you just have booze divided between the nation’s cupboards. And for many of us right now, the evenings feel so long and without distractions the outside world would usually provide.
What we are not talking about enough is what is going on behind closed doors of British homes, the private pain which may have become even more pronounced under the weight of isolation.
According to statistics from Drinkaware, there were an estimated 586,780 dependent drinkers in England in 2017/18, with 81.7% not receiving proper treatment.
With the threat of stress, loneliness and boredom creeping in, it’s a particularly important time to look out for those who might be struggling with alcohol dependency issues.
A recent YouGov poll, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, found the ongoing pandemic has led to almost two thirds of adults in the UK feeling anxious or worried, and experts are concerned many will turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping strategy.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now advised against becoming reliant on alcohol, urging people not to let drink become an unhelpful and potentially very dangerous way to manage escalating stress or anxiety.
A Drinkaware representative told UNILAD:
Small things can quickly turn into habits.
It’s important to remember that the more you drink, the more you increase your tolerance for alcohol, and this can lead to dependency.
In the middle of struggling with worry, a drink can seem like the answer to alleviate feelings of anxiety. And this is true whether someone is struggling with addiction or treading a fine line over what could be drinking too much.
Alcohol is best avoided when you’re anxious. 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.
As well as impacting upon mental health and well-being, drinking heavily can affect a person’s immune system too; leaving them more vulnerable to infections.
The Drinkaware representative explained:
Alcohol can suppress a range of immune responses, and this is particularly the case for people who drink very heavily and regularly.
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.
Also important if you smoke. People who drink more than the low risk drinking guidelines are more than twice as likely to be smokers, and dependent drinkers more than four times as likely to be smokers, compared to the general population and we know that smokers are faring particularly badly in terms of severe disease and death if they become infected with Covid-19.
It is important to try to keep your body in good health in order to fight off infections, and this includes stopping smoking.
Of course, for many of those in recovery, it can be difficult to keep your footing steady during this global crisis, which has brought additional personal struggles to those who are already fighting every day to move forward.
Rebecca Harris, Service Manager and UKCP accredited Systemic Psychotherapist from the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) shared her insights with UNILAD into the challenges of alcohol addiction at this unprecedented time.
According to Harris, those with addiction issues will often report self-isolation as being a sign ‘that they are not coping well’. With such conditions now mandatory, many will not be feeling strong and be open to relapses or binges.
Speaking with UNILAD, Harris advised what those struggling to remain sober should bear in mind during what may be quite an emotionally draining self-isolation:
Different things work for different people, but in general it’s really helpful to create a daily routine and try to stick to it.
This will keep you feeling purposeful each day. You could include regular times for getting up and going to bed, making sure you wash and dress every day and eating healthily; and then factor in other activities at different times.
Make sure you get some fresh air every day if it’s possible to do this safely. Mindfulness is also very helpful and can easily be done at home: there are many online resources and apps which can help you get started.
Staying connected to others is very important: even though people can’t meet face-to-face, make sure you keep in contact by phone, or using video conferencing such as Skype or Zoom.
Helping others is a positive thing to do: there may be housebound people in the neighbourhood who need shopping delivered, for example.
As things currently stand, the usual support services on offer to those with addiction issues – from substance misuse services to GPs and emergency services – will be functioning quite differently than what many are used to.
However, there is still plenty of support on offer for those seeking help during this crisis. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are still holding meetings online, whilst the website for the organisation We Are With You details advice on how to access services during the ongoing pandemic.
There are numerous online forums and communities; however these should only be approached with caution as membership may not always be monitored and trolls can be incredibly damaging, especially to people who are already vulnerable.
Twitter can be a good resource, but in general people should be careful not to spend too much time on social media as it can lead to increased anxiety, especially with the current widespread level of stress.
There is also plenty that family and friends can still be doing to look out for a loved one they might have concerns about; keeping communication going even if they’re isolated in separate homes many miles apart.
Drinkaware has advised:
Ask yourself if you know anyone who might be on their own, who might struggle with anxiety or depression.
Do you know anyone who may have been addicted to alcohol – how can you check if they’re okay, how often can you spare the time to give them a call?
Get to know the signs of alcohol dependence. Are they worrying about where their next drink is coming from? Are they finding it hard to stop at just one or two drinks?
Are they drinking first thing in the morning? Are they more anxious or experiencing feelings of depression? Have they ever experienced physical symptoms like sweating, shaking, nausea that could be symptoms of withdrawal?
Of course, it’s also important to check in with yourself, ensuring you aren’t developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Those who are concerned about their own drinking habits can take Drinkaware’s online self-assessment, a certified audit tool used by medical professionals across the world.
We are currently dealing with one of the most challenging situations many of will have ever dealt with, and it’s important we continue to remember the myriad of complex ways this period of isolation will affect those around us.
If you are currently experiencing difficulties with alcohol, there are many others out there who can relate all too well and who want to help and guide you through this trying time.
It’s easy to feel alone when we aren’t seeing people face to face everyday, but there is still so much support and warmth out there for those who reach out for it. Look after yourself.
It’s okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization on coronavirus, click here.
If you want to discuss any issues relating to alcohol in confidence, contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1110, 9am–8pm weekdays and 11am–4pm weekends for advice and support.