As life on lockdown enters its second week, many of us are turning to alcohol to ease the stresses of day-to-day life. But how do we know when stress drinking starts to become too much? Alice Hall asked Elaine Hindal, CEO of Drinkaware.
Why am I drinking more in isolation?
“Even before the coronavirus pandemic started, our data suggested that 58% of people drink to cope – this can mean unwinding from a stressful job, or having a little ‘me-time’ at the end of the day,” says Elaine. “Alcohol is so culturally embedded that inevitably we’re going to see more people using alcohol to deal with their anxieties.”
What are the negative side effects of stress-drinking?
Elaine warns that the key danger of drinking more in isolation is that it doesn’t relieve stress, and will in the long term reduce your ability to cope with the situation.
“In the short term, alcohol often helps you to fall asleep quickly. But through the night, it interferes with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the deep sleep that refreshes you,” says Elaine. “You may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep. By the time it gets to morning, you don’t feel refreshed at all.”
“Alcohol is a depressant, so people who are drinking more than usual may find themselves thinking more negative thoughts. Stress drinking can also contribute to their overall feelings of anxiety, depression, and generally bringing down their mood,” she adds. “Also people may be storing up a mild dependence and come to rely on alcohol.”
How do I know I’m drinking too much?
The government’s recommended alcohol intake is 14 units per week – about 6 or 7 drinks. But they also advise that you have several drink free days throughout the week. “If you’re drinking more than that, you’re putting your health and wellbeing in harm’s way,” says Elaine.
Signs to look out for: “You might be drinking earlier in the day than you would have done previously or drinking without realising it – you might be sitting by your laptop and have mindlessly drunk a pint of beer without noticing.”
If you aren’t sure whether you are drinking too much, Drink Aware offers a free Alcohol Use Disorders Identification test (AUDIT) on their website.
How do I find a sensible limit?
If you want to break the habit all together, Elaine recommends distracting yourself by getting outdoors.
“Although it’s challenging in these times, we promote getting out in the fresh air and making sure you exercise. Connecting with friends, either online or on the phone, is crucial, as is thinking about others,” says Elaine. “It can be helpful to think – what can I do for my neighbours and community today?”
That being said, Elaine maintains “there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a drink with your friends over the internet.” The key is moderation.
“If you’re having a little online party, have some alcohol-free options on hand to alternate drinks” says Elaine. “Also be aware of self-pouring – people often pour themselves bigger glasses at home than they would drink in the pub.”
To curb this, Elaine recommends using a smaller sized glass than usual and switching to drinks with lower alcohol content – such as prosecco, which has an abv of 10 to 11 per cent.
She also recommends practising “mindful drinking” – which is being aware of the moment and enjoying your drink.
“If you say, I’m going to clock off on Friday and enjoy a really nice glass of wine, make sure you do that,” says Elaine. “By consciously enjoying the moment, you won’t end up drinking two or three glasses without realising.”