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Understanding alcohol during COVID-19

By Tim Woodley

The internet has been awash with incorrect information relating to alcohol and its interaction with COVID-19. We wanted to take the time today to elaborate on alcohol consumption during this difficult and unique period in our history.

Many adults across the UK are struggling with problematic alcohol consumption or dependency, and the unique restrictions placed upon us, such as social distancing, are leading others towards its misuse.


Alcohol consumption won’t protect you from COVID-19

First and foremost, we are obliged to reiterate what has been stated by medical professionals and the World Health Organisation: consuming alcohol to treat or immunise yourself from COVID-19 will not work to any degree. This is false information that has been spread online by unreliable sources and outlets.

If anything, it’ll do the opposite; heavy alcohol consumption actually undermines your immune system, potentially causing damage to the immune cells in your lungs and upper respiratory system. You can find further guidance from the WHO in this recently released infographic.


Alcohol as a coping mechanism during isolation

We’ve covered in a previous blog just how impactful isolation is on drug and alcohol use. A person who struggles with problematic drug and alcohol misuse will tend towards isolating themselves as their problem takes greater hold, and this danger is especially relevant during this global pandemic. In this respect, consistent problematic use can soon develop into psychological and physical dependency.

If you are struggling with your wellbeing due to the social distancing measures required for the safety of all, turning to substances like alcohol to cope is a dangerous decision. The immediate and temporary gratification it will provide to you will pass quickly, and the lack of social interaction with others in the months ahead will leave you with less consequence to falling further into problematic drinking habits – and the neglect of the self that comes with it.

We appreciate that this is easy to say and, for many, harder to do. We encourage anyone struggling with problematic alcohol use to seek connection and interaction with friends and loved ones, and to get in touch with their GP or the team here at Help Me Stop if they are concerned about their drinking. You may also find our Digital Dayhab face to face online programme beneficial, as it can be attended from your own home.  

Chris Cordell*, Help Me Stop's General Manager says: “It’s human nature to worry. And when faced with the unknown like COVID-19, even the most robust among us can go through periods of fear and doubt which can lead some of us to self-medicate with alcohol. Worrying about catching COVID-19 yourselves or one of your family catching it, receiving frequent disturbing information on television and online, and the fear of losing your financial support all increases anxiety. However, reaching for alcohol can enhance your anxiety or make it more likely for problematic patterns of alcohol use to start or continue”.

 

Be mindful of alcohol’s effect on your mood

Our relationships and connections with friends and loved ones matter now more than ever. We can improve the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us by strengthening our connections and spending more time with those we care about.

It’s important to be mindful of how alcohol can affect this. For many, it’s a frustrating time; we feel cooped up inside, unable to see friends, go to the gym or enjoy our usual hobbies. While alcohol can be a temporary release from these frustrations, it doesn’t resolve them – and they may boil over when you’re drunk. This can easily lead to arguments and even violence in the house at a time when we all need each other the most.


Be wary of cross-addiction

As we covered in this article previously, addiction doesn’t always occur in isolation. If you struggle with alcoholism or have in the past, it’s important to be vigilant as to your activities and habits at home. People who have been addicted to one substance are more like to ‘transfer’ their addiction to another in the future, and this phenomenon can include activities such as gambling, sex and video games.

You may find it helpful to think about your personality and compulsions instead of just an addiction to one substance. Even if you have achieved sobriety already, the months ahead form a unique set of stressors that could lead you back towards addictive behaviour in a new area entirely.

By being aware of this and considering the patterns of your behaviour and your mental wellbeing, you can set yourself up to catch dangerous behaviour before it leads you towards the cycle of addiction and dependency anew.


We’re here to talk if you need us

Help Me Stop provides non-residential Dayhab and Digital Dayhab face to face online programmes, but we’re available to talk beyond that to anyone who needs an understanding, sympathetic and experienced ear. If you’re struggling with drugs and alcohol and your mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, please reach out to us by calling 0208 191 8920 or by using our contact form.


*Chris is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, a Certified International Recovery Specialist, and is a member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine.