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As the WHO urges people not to turn to alcohol to cope with anxiety, Priory experts offer tips on how to avoid drinking to excess

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 'unhelpful coping strategy'.

But it did acknowledge the difficulties and worries many people face adjusting to isolation and quarantining.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, alcohol addiction expert at the Priory Hospital in Roehampton, said: “The enormous stress caused by the Covid-19 crisis, and the 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’ this way, it could be a time to “try and look honestly” at your weekly alcohol consumption.

“Maybe keep a drink diary if you don't know. 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.

“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 added: “Also, know your ABVs. When looking at your consumption, consider the ABV of what you were drinking. Wine that says '13 ABV' - ABV stands for 'alcohol by volume' - 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.

“And 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 decide you might want to change, because the benefits of reducing or giving up alcohol are manifold.

“Reducing your alcohol intake is a huge incentive to 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 by the year's end.”

Pamela Roberts, addiction therapy manager at Priory’s Woking Hospital, said that for those already struggling with alcoholism, the coronavirus outbreak was incredibly challenging.

“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,” she says. “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. Former Priory patients have access to Priory’s Thrive app, which they can download on their phone. On the app they will find ways to help and manage stress and anxiety including meditations, and links to other resources, she said.



About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into three divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, and adult care. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.

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