Alcohol Dependency & Coronavirus
In times of stress and hardship, we can find ourselves drinking more often or more heavily. Alcohol Change UK has reported that 1 in 3 people are drinking less often during self-isolation, but that 1 in 5 people are drinking more.
As soon as the isolation period began, social media has been overflowing with people jokingly toasting themselves in the mirror, with ‘quarantini’ photos going viral, and with users posting that “It’s okay to start drinking at 10 am if you’re on furlough”. To respond to times of crisis with humour can be healthy, but if you are finding that you are worried about the amount or frequency of your drinking, it might be time to reconsider.
For many of us, our routines have been completely disrupted due to social distancing, self-isolation, and possibly being furloughed from work. This change of routine can mean that it is harder to keep track of how much we are actually drinking.
What is Alcohol Dependency?
The NHS estimates that 8.7% of men and 3.3% of women show signs of dependence on alcohol, but there is no way of telling yet how the coronavirus might impact these figures.
Being dependent on alcohol means that you feel that you aren’t able to function properly without it. Alcohol can become an important, or even the most important, factor in your life. If you find it difficult to relax or enjoy yourself without having a drink, it is possible that you’ve become dependent on alcohol.
Alcohol dependency is on a spectrum. You don’t have to be drinking heavily or frequently to be considered dependent. On one end of the spectrum, someone might struggle to enjoy themselves on a night out without drinking enough to be tipsy. On the other end of the spectrum, someone else might feel that they need to have a couple of drinks in the morning before being able to function at work.
People who drink heavily tend to keep increasing the amount they drink because they develop a tolerance to alcohol. Tolerance is a physiological response we have to any drug: the more you consume, the more you need to consume to have the same effect.
Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Regular, heavy drinking interferes with chemicals in the brain that are vital for good mental health. Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it can impact the balance of our brain’s chemicals, in turn impacting our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Sometimes, this can impact long-term mental health, contributing to the development of depression and anxiety.
For someone who is experiencing anxiety, or anxious feelings, having a drink might make them feel more at ease, however, this feeling is only temporary. The relaxing effects of the alcohol wear of quickly, which can lead someone to reach for another drink. As someone’s tolerance builds, they will need a greater amount of alcohol to feel less anxious.
A cyclical relationship can develop with alcohol, as a hangover very often shares symptoms with anxiety; headaches, muscle aches, stomach pains, increased pulse, shaking, sweating, and so on. Someone might then reach for a drink to feel relaxed again.
How Do I Know If I’m Dependent?
You are likely to be dependent on alcohol if you show any of the following signs;
- Once you start, you can’t stop. Most people have the ability to start and stop sipping whenever they please, meaning they’ll plan to have one drink with dinner… and actually have one drink with dinner. Those who are dependent on alcohol will aim to have one drink and then find that they aren’t able to stop.
- You’re drinking alone, and hiding it. This one is tricky at the moment, as you might be self-isolating alone. However, if you are drinking and pretending that you aren’t when talking to loved ones, you may be more dependent on alcohol than you previously thought. If you are consciously hiding your drinking, then you are probably aware, on some level, that your drinking habits are unhealthy.
- You drink to feel ‘normal’. If you can’t socialise with others without having a drink or two first, you are probably relying too heavily on alcohol. You might use alcohol to self-medicate, to fall asleep at night, and eventually not be able to fall asleep at all without having a few drinks first.
- You have tried to cut back but can’t. You might have noticed that you are drinking more, or more often, than you would like to. But when you have tried to cut back you have found struggled and ended up back at square one.
- You’ve lost friends because of your drinking.People may fall out of your life because they struggle to put up with your drinking, or you might have continuous arguments with friends who try to get you to slow down or cut back.
How Can I Cut Back?
Many people across the UK are now spending a lot more time at home. Some of us may find ourselves feeling bored or anxious, and without realising it, may reach for a glass of wine or a beer more often than we would usually.
Here are some ways to relax without reaching for a drink;
- Avoid bad habits such as having a glass of wine or beer at lunch, while at your computer, or opening a bottle as a way to wind down after the workday is done.
- Create a daily routine and stick to it. Boredom leads to temptation.
- Replace these habits with healthy ones such as staying hydrated with water and non-alcoholic alternatives.
- Keep track of your drinking habits. It can be something as simple as a piece of paper pinned to the fridge door or you can find an app that helps you to track your alcohol intake. You could even go as far as getting someone to be an accountability partner; this could be a friend, family member, or someone from a support group.
- Buy non-alcoholic, or low-alcohol, alternatives.
- Get inventive and try making some alcohol-free mocktails.
- Stay connected to others, especially those that are a good influence. Try to find some social activities that you can do without drinking such as a virtual games night, virtual coffee morning, or an online book club with friends.
- Create a list of things that you can do to reward yourself for your progress, that doesn’t involve drinking alcohol. For example, you might buy a new item of clothing online with the money that you would have spent on alcohol.
If you feel you would like some professional support to explore your relationship to alcohol, or with any underlying issues, we have a team of addiction counsellors who will be able to help. Please contact us on 020 8673 4545 to talk to one of our lovely reception team or email [email protected]. We have telephone and online video appointments seven days a week.