Covid has changed the drinking landscape and become the enabler of unhealthy drink habits for millions says Priory expert
- Priory expert says Covid is an “enabler” of heavy drinking
- Around one million more Brits have become addicted since the start of the pandemic, with most drinking now “home-based”
- Priory’s own data shows a 44% increase in people enquiring about private alcohol addiction services between January-November 2021
- Benefits of giving up alcohol for a month are huge, says Dr Niall Campbell
A record number of people are expected to reassess their home drinking habits, and take part in Dry January 2022, after official data laid bare the extent to which alcohol consumption has soared during the pandemic.
As many as one million more people have become addicted to alcohol during Covid-19. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 1.5 million adults drank over 50 units per week, but that figure rose to nearly 2.5 million by summer 2021. The recommended amount is no more than 14 units.
Priory’s own figures show a significant increase in people inquiring about alcohol addiction treatment. There has been a 44% increase in inquiries to its private alcohol addiction services between January-November 2021, accounting for 3,000 people and up from 2,000 in 2020.
Priory has now contributed ‘drinking safely’ tools to a free-to-download mental health app, My Possible Self, listed on the NHS Apps Library, aimed at helping anyone participating in Dry January.
Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Campbell, based at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, said a significant number of people wanted to ‘reset’ their relationship with alcohol. In 2021, an estimated 6.5 million UK adults took part in Dry January, a significant increase on the 2020 figure of around 3.9 million.
Dr Niall Campbell, who is one of the UK’s leading experts in alcohol addiction, said: “I have been alarmed at just how much people have sought to self-medicate with alcohol for boredom, stress, job loss or work insecurity, depression and anxiety.
“Relationships have been seriously fractured by the pandemic – couples have been cooped up together while working from home, juggling two jobs or no job, or struggling to juggle children and elderly parents and work. We have seen a change in the pattern of drinking, moving from 6pm to early afternoon to lunchtime. Covid has changed the drinking landscape. Lots of people are drinking like hell, at home and ‘under the radar’. It’s difficult to hide your drinking habits when at work but at home, and especially if you don’t need to drive, people are drinking more. Covid has been the enabler.
“Dry January is a reckoning of sorts for people, and that is a good thing. Yes, some people will ‘white knuckle’ it until February, but, for many, they will reassess their relationship with alcohol and start 2022 with a more mindful approach.”
Dr Campbell offers 10 pieces of advice on how to give up alcohol for Dry January and beyond.
What’s your motivation?
“Ask yourself why? I say to patients that they should assess alcohol’s true toll on their physical, mental and emotional health. Remind yourself of your worst or most embarrassing hangover. Do you constantly feel lethargic and foggy-headed? Do you ‘lose’ days to hangovers? Do you find it hard to kick-start yourself in the mornings? Thinking about these things will help you, because the benefits of giving up alcohol are manifold.
Talk to a friend and, if possible, get them to give up alcohol at the same time as you – then support each other. You might take up a sport at the same time, go running or walking together. Discuss times when you might be tempted to go the pub and opt for the cinema, or binge watch Netflix. Have a Netflix party. Discuss your mutual motivations for giving up alcohol. A phone App, like Priory’s My Possible Self, might be useful as your supportive buddy.
Swap lagers for lattes
Swap your wine or lager culture for a coffee culture. You can still be just as sociable.
Avoid social functions and resist peer pressure
It is very hard to attend social functions where alcohol is plied and you are under peer pressure. Stay away. If you do go, mentally prepare how you will refuse alcohol. Keep away from supermarket aisles stocked full of alcohol. Don’t put yourself in a high-risk situation.
The ‘look yourself in the mirror’ moment
“I see lives devastated by alcohol. You need to look honestly at your weekly alcohol consumption. 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 the decision to stop. If you are a heavy drinker and stop suddenly, you can get withdrawal seizures so you should always consult a doctor.
Instead of alcohol?
You might think low alcohol beer is ok but it can give you a taste for the real stuff. Think of this period as a detox. Get in the habit of drinking at least five glasses of water each day as your body desperately needs water for almost everything it does. Fruit juices are better than caffeinated, artificially sweetened soft drinks.
Think of losing weight
Giving up alcohol is a huge incentive to losing weight and looking better, because there are lots of hidden calories in alcohol. According to a YouGov survey, 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. Alcohol Concern says that of those who gave up alcohol for the first month in 2017, 49% lost weight over the month (62% of people also slept better, 79% of people saved money and 65% sustained reduced levels of drinking six months later, while 8% of people stayed dry). Reducing your weight brings a lot of other benefits. You help to reduce further your risk of developing Type II diabetes and you lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your blood pressure drops, and you may find pain on your joints reduces as the body isn’t trying to carry as much weight.”
You can drive everywhere
Giving up alcohol means no more worrying about who is driving at the end of a night out or a weekend lunch, or no more expensive taxi journeys home.
Count the cash
You will have more money in your wallet when you give up drinking. If you spend, say, around £30 a week on 3 bottles of wine, you will save £120.00 by the month’s end and £1,560 if you continue the whole year. Invest in something you enjoy, and reward yourself.
Save your skin (and sleep)
“This is an important confidence booster in our image-obsessed world. Drinking alcohol causes blood vessels to widen, which increases blood flow and causes facial flushing. As alcohol is a diuretic, drinking heavily can also lead to dehydrated and dry skin. Over time, it can also result in the permanent reddening of the face, spider veins and psoriasis, particularly on the fingers and hands. But there are loads of other benefits to giving up alcohol; your blood sugar will normalise, you will feel much more clear-headed, less depressed and your sleep patterns are likely to improve within a week. Heavy drinking causes blood cells to become larger and that makes you more tired because they are unable to transport oxygen efficiently around the body. Your liver will begin to repair itself in as little as two months. Many people report that their mood or outlook on life seems better.