alcohol during lockdown wine being poured

During uncertain times such as our current COVID-19 lockdown, alcohol has the potential to become more than just an occasional relaxing treat. Instead, it could quickly become an unhealthy escapism for those struggling to assimilate the unexpected changes to their daily lives.

Alcohol Could Become A COVID-19 Crutch

COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown has brought a whole range of new challenges to people’s lives, the unprecented, enforced changes to daily life leaving many feeling unsettled and looking to fill new voids in their lives. A recent study found that for those who already drink regularly, alcohol is often becoming a bigger part of their lives as they seek to find their new normal under these unfamliar housebound conditions.

Alcohol sales increased by 30% in March in Britain and a recent nationwide study found that 20% of people who normally drink have begun to drink more often since the start of the lockdown.

“Without the usual external distractors, people may feel even more drawn into trying to numb their uncomfortable feelings, and the consumption of alcohol is one way of doing so.”

Our founder, Dr Claudia Herbert, was recently featured in an Independent article on the changing nature of alcohol use during the lockdown. The article features people’s various experiences with alcohol as they are adjusting to the new circumstances. Rebekah’s journey is one of a young fitness enthusiast who would usually be in the gym every day with her personal trainer or playing football with her ladies team. As an anxiety sufferer, she describes how her mental and physical wellbeing had improved a lot through her involvement with sport and fitness. This had also helped her to cut down on drinking a lot. That was until the new lockdown conditions curtailed her usual fitness routine. Being at home all the time she has noticed that alcohol is starting to feature in the majority of her evenings now.

Dr Herbert comments on this, explaining, “Whatever, the individual circumstances, from a psychological perspective, this is a time that poses a lot of strain and challenges for many people and many may experience the effects of this lockdown as totally overwhelming and even traumatic. Without the usual external distractors, people may feel even more drawn into trying to numb their uncomfortable feelings, and the consumption of alcohol is one way of doing so.”

Dry Lockdown Tells The Other Side Of The Story

This seems to be tempered with other people taking things in the opposite direction.  For many, the changes imposed by lockdown have been a catalyst to cut down on their normal drinking habits. In the article, a professional model, Victoria Clay explains the effects of the changes to her routine, “before the pandemic, my schedule was photoshoots by day, events and premieres by night, which meant fast-flowing champagne receptions, and guzzling down five glasses without noticing. But now that’s gone, I’ve realised I was only drinking because of the environment I was in”.

This tale is also told in the results of the study on alcohol usage during lockdown which showed that 1 in 3 of the 1555 drinkers surveyed, reported that they had reduced how often they drink, with 6% having stopped entirely. The figures showed that the majority of those cutting down or cutting out alcohol usage were in the category of people who drank once a week or less before the lockdown. For those who were daily drinkers before the lockdown, only 17% have cut down their consumption with almost one in five, instead, reporting an increase in the amount they are drinking.

How Increased Alcohol Consuption Can Be A Slippery Slope

While, in the short term, alcohol can feel like it is a relaxant and a potential solution to overcoming feelings of depression, stress or anxiety, regular heavy drinking inteferes with chemical balances in the brain which are vital for good mental health. This is why even an, initially, mild reliance on alcohol to manage mental health issues can easily escalate towards a more severe problem. Drinking can start to have more influence than you would like on your life, putting a strain on your relationships, replacing other activities and skewing your judgement. These things can then in turn further undermine your mental wellbeing.

As the alcohol study points out in its online summary, ‘habits are formed quickly but can be hard to break. If people start drinking at risky levels now, not only do they face the risk of immediate harms (such as accidents, fires, arguments and conflict) but also the risk of their alcohol consumption rising over the medium to long term.’

The potential for alcohol becoming harmful to people’s lives is magnified in these times of stress and anxiety. In the Independent article, CEO of Drinkaware, Elaine Hindal explains, “alcohol is best avoided when you are 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.”

Alcohol Change UK’s resource on the link between alcohol and mental health sums up the potential risks in the following list:

  • Overuse of alcohol can worsen the symptoms of many mental health problems. In particular, it can lead to low mood and anxiety
  • As the immediate feeling of calm after drinking fades over time, you may feel worse than before
  • Post-drinking hangovers can be particularly difficult, with the usual headache and nausea being accompanied by feelings of depression and/or anxiety
  • Using alcohol in this way can mean that the underlying mental health issues aren’t addressed

Resources If You Feel You Need Help With Alcohol

If you feel that you or anybody you know may be struggling with alcohol, there are many organisations dedicated to providing support, resources and guidance on ways to improve your situation. Here are some useful links to explorer this further:

For over 20 years, we’ve enabled our clients to create change across a range of unhelpful patterns and habits in their lives, giving us a wealth of experience in this area of psychology. Working holistically with clients, we have empowered them with the techniques and confidence to create fundamental change in their lives. The results have shown, time and time again, that addictions and attachments, such as a detrimental relationship with alcohol, can be changed and overcome. Follow the link to read more about our service or, if you would like to find out more about how we can help, please contact us below.

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