If you find yourself reaching for a bottle of wine as soon as you log off from work, then you could be living in a state of ignorant bliss.
Regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week (that’s around a bottle-and-a-half of wine or seven pints of beer) means your drinking has got out of hand.
With Macmillan Cancer Support’s Sober October in full swing, now might be the time to accept you need help, and you wouldn’t be the only one.
The number of people drinking at ‘high risk’ levels has almost doubled to 8.4million since February, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Alcohol is part of our lives.
We use it when we’re celebrating, sad or socialising and when we need to wind down, or to cope with stress or anxiety. Drinking is encouraged and it’s sometimes even frowned upon when we refuse a tipple.
However, regularly drinking to excess can be hugely damaging to your health in the long-term, not to mention your wellbeing, energy levels, anxiety and appearance in the short-term.
Why do we turn to alcohol in time of crisis?
Why do we turn to booze in times of crisis?
‘From a psychological perspective, alcohol is often used to avoid having to deal with difficult feelings such as anxiety, fear, panic…’ says psychologist Dr Martina Paglia of The International Psychology Clinic.
‘These feelings are commonly triggered in a time of crisis as people use drinking to cope, as we’ve seen during the pandemic. When enduring challenging life events such as the death of a loved one, a break-up or an illness, some feel that drinking helps them get through the short-term by obliterating the pain, albeit temporarily.
‘However, drinking is actually a dysfunctional coping strategy as the truth and reality must be faced at some point and worked through. An alcohol habit can easily lead to damaged relationships, unemployment and the inability to function normally on a day-to-day basis as well as posing significant health problems.’
‘The chief medical officer has helpfully distilled a lot of really complicated medical research into very clear guidance for us,’ says Lucy Holmes, director of research and policy at leading alcohol charity Alcohol Change UK.
‘Don’t drink more than 14 units a week and spread those units across the week, rather than binge drink on a Saturday night. It’s simple and clear because alcohol is a factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver and depression.’
In April, the charity saw an astronomical 355 per cent increase in traffic to the ‘Get help now’ section of its website compared to the year before – while figures for the six-month lockdown period (March-September) were up by 173 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.
‘In our polls at the start and end of lockdown, while there was polarisation –some people cut down or quit booze completely and some drank more – there was a striking pattern in that, those who drank more tended to be younger, better off, working full-time and parents with kids under 18 at home,’ adds Lucy.
‘It was also the case that those already drinking heavily were likely to drink even more. As we come into another potential period of lockdown, all the triggers for drinking are there again – the fact routine is completely out the window, we are experiencing extra stress, anxiety and boredom – and it’s easy to establish bad habits that are hard to break.
‘At Alcohol Change UK we also worry about people’s mental health. Stress and anxiety can be triggers for people to drink, but alcohol can actually make your mental health worse. So if you’re struggling, it’s good to look for support.’
If you want to start tracking how much you’re actually consuming, there are several apps you can download and online quizzes can tell you if you need to cut down.
‘A lot of people are not actually sure how much they are drinking,’ says Lucy.
‘Especially when free-pouring at home. A tracking app can give you weekly stats and break down your alcohol intake into calories and money so you can be aware of exactly how it’s affecting you.’
What it’s like to go sober
Lizzie* took on Dry January at the start of 2020 and has since stayed alcohol-free because she found that she didn’t like the role alcohol played in her life.
‘I decided I didn’t want to drink anymore because I realised that alcohol was not serving me well in life,’ she says. ‘I did not have a healthy attitude towards it and used it to numb me against the bad stuff in my life. Grabbing a glass of wine became the norm, even on a good day.
‘Being alcohol-free has been hard at times, but my attitude to life has changed for the better. Since lockdown things have been harder. I have had to stop my therapy sessions, and there have been a couple times I thought, “I could just drink that whole bottle of prosecco left over from Christmas…”
‘Everywhere online people are talking about drinking in response to our current situation and it breaks my heart. I’m part of a support group online run by Alcohol Change UK, and I’m using that, plus remembering all the positives of getting control of my drinking, to help me stay sober during lockdown. By removing this one thing from my life, I have gained so much and for that I am so thankful.’
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