Isolation, Loneliness, Stress, Escapism.
In an unprecedented and traumatic time, isolation and loneliness, as well as stress and need for escapism, has prompted many to drink. Slowly but surely the UK is moving into a new phase of normal, with a brand new dossier of public health-related habits including masks and hand sanitisers.
But there are a few less positive habits that have potentially been picked up during a state of lockdown. Rises in alcohol dependence was a big prediction at the beginning of the pandemic, spurred on by the government permitting off-licenses to stay open as an 'essential business' and reports of people rushing to supermarkets to stock up on alcohol. Unfortunately, this bleak prediction has come to pass and upon estimation, it has been revealed that 8.6 million UK adults have been drinking more since the beginning of lockdown. Furthermore, 15% of UK drinkers have been drinking more per drinking session during the lockdown. So what's happened?
The cyclical nature of stress and alcohol
Parents have been around their children more; schools have been closed and many non-essential business closures have ensured that relatives spend more time together. This change in routine has spiked numbers of alcohol misuse upon already heavy drinkers. But there is a tangible risk for drinking more around your children - an alcohol-free childhood is strongly recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMO). In fact, 7% of survey respondents felt that alcohol use had increased the tension in their household since lockdown had started and this number is drastically higher with households with children. One in seven people with children under 18 living in their household reported that alcohol had increased tensions, while only 4% felt alcohol had lessened tensions.
Despite the need to alleviate some stress during an inherently stressful time, rinking alcohol during this time actually could make things a lot worse. Alcohol is actually a depressant, meaning in the long term is helps contribute to conditions like depression and anxiety. More than one in 3 UK drinkers report having had a drink to forget about their problems like anxiety, depression, stress and nervousness that comes along with routine change, job uncertainty and health stress. However, associating alcohol with stress relief can be a disaster - it can lead to more drinking when you're anxious with can, in turn, lead to more anxiety.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to discern how much alcohol one drinks at home too. There's guesswork involved with pouring a glass at home or relying on a bottle with an ambiguous label. Most don't take the time to measure when they're at home. You don't have to be alcohol dependent to misjudge serving guidelines or accidentally do damage and harm to your body, mind and others around you.
On the other side of the story, lockdown and time to oneself provide a perfect opportunity to try something different. There are differences in wealth and income that unfortunately leave the most vulnerable at a disadvantage. But a high number of adults are trying seeking advice online, taking drink-free days and remedying anxiety and stress with being connected through others by virtual means. It can be difficult to remember that people are a call away, but COVID-19 has been a shocking reminder that social connection is an essential part of life to keep human beings happy and sane.
Here is a top 5 list for relaxing activities to engage in as opposed to getting into a circle of stress (no matter if you're in or out of lockdown):
These relax-ivities include concepts that you're probably already aware of like meditation, eating more fruit and vegetables, exercising but also things you might forget from time to time like using a stress ball, trying a virtual book club or zoning out on a redecoration crafts project.
Coming out of COVID and into a new normal can also mean redefining a relationship with unhealthy habits. But there's no pressure, maybe it's just about focusing on not making a bad problem even worse.