16-22 November 2020 is Alcohol Awareness Week in the UK. This year’s theme is Alcohol and Mental Health. More information on the campaigns for Alcohol Awareness Week can be found on the Alcohol Change website.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently reported that the number of people in the UK drinking harmful amounts of alcohol nearly doubled in June compared to the previous four months before the first coronavirus lockdown began. It is thought that almost 8.5 million adults are now drinking at levels which are dangerous to them. This is extremely worrying, but perhaps also understandable.
Alcohol consumption is often used in our culture as a way of relaxing, a way of socialising, a way of celebrating or enjoying ourselves – but also for some, as a way of coping and even a way of forgetting life’s challenges and problems.
Lockdown was not and is not easy, and now that the second lockdown in England has started, some of us may be finding it really challenging. Lockdown interferes with our natural rhythm of life; it interferes with if, how and where we interact with others especially those we really care about; if and how we work and earn a living; how we spend our spare time; and it can interfere with how we enjoy life. During these months of uncertainty, some of us may have taken the view that that glass (or bottle) of wine, or that extra beer is a little treat to help us cope with the things and people we are missing whilst being stuck at home. It may also be a way of reducing anxiety levels felt over extra worries – health, financial or others – brought on by the pandemic. We may also feel that somehow we have earned it – a way of letting our hair down whilst being unable to enjoy some of the things in life in the way we would otherwise have done. Before we know it, that glass of wine may have become more than a treat but something we come to expect and even to depend upon – and in lockdown – something to keep us going.
You don’t have to be drunk to be considered to be drinking excessively. If you are drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week – that’s 10 small glasses of wine or six pints of average strength beer or 14 shots – then you may be drinking excessively.
Excess drinking of alcohol or even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol but on a regular basis can be very damaging to both physical and mental health. It is particularly harmful if someone is already struggling with their mental health, as alcohol can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety, and distort reality. It can also put a strain on relationships at home and at work. Physically, drinking alcohol can put a strain on the heart and of course, on the liver. It’s not good for the waistline either. In terms of calories, 14 units of alcohol is the equivalent of four cheeseburgers a week. Putting on weight can in turn cause problems with diabetes and heart disease among other conditions.
It is important therefore to re-gain control over any drinking habits which may have become out of hand before they become more serious and start to take their toll. Limiting the days on which you drink – for example to just weekends; or limiting the size and strength of drinks can be helpful starting points. Sometimes though, it may be necessary to get outside help. There are a number of organisations which can help with tips on reducing alcohol consumption, such as Drink Aware, and support organisations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Alcohol Change.
If alcohol is affecting your mental health, it can be helpful to talk to someone about your concerns and any life circumstances or mental health condition which may be causing you to drink. Mental health professionals such as therapists or psychiatrists can help you find a plan to tackle and manage your drinking habits and to enjoy life without the dependence on alcohol.
To make an appointment with one of our consultant psychiatrists, please get in touch.