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Coronavirus and alcohol: how to avoid unsafe drinking habits

For many people, the loss of routine can completely upend their drinking habits, with every day feeling stressful, or a bit like the weekend, or a combination of both.

But experts have cautioned against turning to alcohol to cope with the coronavirus lockdown as it can have severe implications on mental and physical health. The European arm of the World Health Organisation has said relying on alcohol is an 'unhealthy coping strategy'. It also acknowledged the difficulties and worries many people face adjusting to isolation and quarantining.

Dr Niall Campbell, alcohol addiction expert at Priory Hospital Roehampton, has said: “The enormous stress caused by the COVID-19 crisis, and social isolation, is leading to more people trying to cope by using alcohol. It’s cheaper to drink at home, and so much easier to drink more.”

He said that while people might be tempted to “self-medicate” for worry or anxiety in this way, it could be a time to “try and look honestly” at your weekly alcohol consumption.

Managing your drinking habits in coronavirus self-isolation

Dr Niall Campbell has said: “I often see people whose drinking levels have crept up on them and who use alcohol to cope with unreasonable work pressures, or life crises. But drinking is not a coping strategy.”

He suggests trying to monitor your alcohol intake by keeping a drink diary, particularly if you are unaware of how much you have been drinking. Some things to think about including are as follows:

  • Familiarise yourself with what a 'unit' consists of and what the alcohol unit guidelines are (no more than 14 units a week). It's not as simple as one drink, one unit. Large wine glasses hold 250ml, which is nearly three units or more in a single glass. Likewise, one pint of strong lager can contain more than three units of alcohol. A 750ml bottle of red, white or rosé wine contains around 10 units. By knowing what you consume, you can make decisions about levels.
  • Know your ABVs. When looking at your consumption, consider the alcohol by volume (ABV) of what you were drinking. Wine that says '13 ABV' on its label contains 13% pure alcohol. The ABV of popular 'new world' wines from New Zealand and Australia can be more than European wines.
  • Think about the side effects of drinking too much on your physical, mental and emotional health. Remind yourself of your worst or most embarrassing hangover. Thinking about these things will help you to decide that you might want to change, because the benefits of reducing or giving up alcohol are manifold.

Reducing your alcohol intake is also a way of losing weight and looking better, because there are lots of hidden calories in alcohol. The average wine drinker in England takes in around 2,000 calories from alcohol every month. Drinking five pints of lager a week adds up to 44,200 calories over a year, which is equivalent to eating 221 doughnuts. And if you spend, say, around £20 a week on 2-3 bottles of wine, you will save £1,040 in 12 months.

Struggling with alcoholism during the coronavirus outbreak

Pamela Roberts, Addiction Therapy Manager at Priory Hospital Woking, understands that for those already struggling with alcoholism, the coronavirus outbreak is incredibly challenging.

She has said: “Addiction is an illness, which is often, but wrongly, portrayed as a choice and this can make life very difficult for those who are struggling with alcohol addiction. This is going to be a difficult and testing time for everyone, and planning for the situation you’re in is going to be the best way of keeping yourselves safe – dig out recovery plans and relapse prevention guides.

“You will need to call on all your support networks during this time. Use calming phone apps to help you focus for a while on something other than your triggers. Manage stress and anxiety using meditations, and links to other resources.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-Step fellowships offer online meetings which may also help you to find structure when your normal routine has been disrupted. The fellowships are working hard to ensure these are still manned, and it’s worth keeping their numbers close to hand as another link in your support system.”

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