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Lockdown is turning us all to drink

By now, most of us have reached the outer limits of sanity. Relentless Covid-19 coverage has driven us to the edge, as has boredom, self-isolation, psychological stress, and the announcement that President Trump will wind down the Coronavirus task force by the end of May. With the intersection of the global pandemic, a confederacy of dunces at the White House and the UK having the highest death rate in Europe, it’s no wonder our alcohol consumption is up.

Recent research suggests that one in five people, about 8.5 million, have increased their alcohol consumption since the beginning of the outbreak. The charity Alcohol Change UK, which represents alcohol service providers, says that the number of people visiting the “get help now” section of their website rose from 4,089 last year to a staggering 20,067 this year during the same six-week period. Alcohol sales jumped 30 per cent in March.

People who drink are drinking more, but another 35 per cent said they are drinking less, and there is a difference between moderate drinking, problem drinking and alcohol dependence. Problem drinkers are those who continue to drink despite recurrent social, interpersonal, health, and legal problems linked to over drinking. There are an estimated 587,000 dependent drinkers in England and people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, are drinking a damaging amount. While those who are physically dependent will crave alcohol and drink to relieve withdrawal symptoms, they may even need a drink to function. This is a long way from enjoying a few glasses on a night out.

We are living with heightened stress, tension, anxiety, boredom, financial woes and isolation and excess drinking can become a creeping problem for those who find their alcohol consumption provides an escape from worry and economic or domestic stress.

Some telltale signs are when the day is fixed around having a drink, and when one glasses of wine at 5 pm turns into two, three or four.

Another sign is a narrowing of repertoire, where you get particular about having the same brand of wine, in the same glass, sitting in the same chair, at the same time every day. An element of routine may silently emerge, and this might indicate a low level of increasing alcohol misuse or even dependence. This sort of deliberate regimen might mask the problem drinking by giving it the illusion of self-control, when in fact, conversely, the alcohol may be in control.

The current lack of social interaction may be fuelling increased drinking. When we struggle to connect with others, we may be more likely to form connections with substances instead. Alcohol can become our dependable best friend. Loneliness may trigger us to drink more, as can being cooped up together at home. People may drink more to escape tensions and interpersonal distress. As it is, there has sadly been an increase in domestic abuse. For some, family lockdown has been a positive experience, for others not so much.

Despite a growing intimacy with Netflix, staving off boredom is real, and we can find the days dragging and our sense of time slowed. Drinking makes time pass faster, something often observed by those abstaining, which may bring relief to people bored at home, particularly those bored at home alone.

People who already over-drink are likely drinking even more and their tolerance may be increasing, which could sustain their increased drinking post lockdown. Some may be using the current circumstances to justify it. The “I deserve a treat” justification. Some may feel having another drink is preferable to what may arise if they don’t.

Drinking more during this surreal time does not have to set alarm bells ringing. Plenty may be drinking more through this time and may well reduce their consumption when life returns to normal. It may end up being no different from the temporary increased eating and holiday drinking. However, some may find their habit is more exaggerated and ingrained than it was before.

The World Health Organization has advised people to limit alcohol consumption during the lockdown. Rather than listen to Trump, perhaps it’s better to take heed of what Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers, said: “In wine there is wisdom. In beer there is freedom. In water there is bacteria.” Best to ignore the President’s recommendation to drink detergent and down a Trumptini or two instead.