Are you drinking more during COVID-19?
Many people use alcohol to help cope with stress. Which is why you might have started drinking more alcohol (or more often) during the coronavirus pandemic.
Maybe the occasional drink at knock off time has turned into a daily 5pm ritual? Or perhaps you’re worried that your drinking is harming your health and the people you love?
If you’ve had problems with alcohol in the past, the extra stress caused by COVID-19 could trigger your past behaviour patterns.
However, with or without the effects of the pandemic, cutting down your drinking is always a good idea. It’ll improve your mood and help you be more resilient to life’s challenges.
When it comes to stress, alcohol is not a good solution
We tend to believe that alcohol reduces our stress levels.
But in reality, it has the opposite effect.
While having a drink might help you feel more relaxed in the moment, alcohol use can increase your risk of anxiety and depression in the long run.
What about sleep?
Many people also believe that drinking alcohol helps them get a better night’s sleep. Spoiler: It doesn’t.
While a night cap might help you fall asleep faster, studies show alcohol has a strong negative effect on sleep quality – especially during the second half of the night.
But why does drinking make me feel relaxed?
Alcohol changes the way our brains work at a chemical level.
As you drink, your brain releases a cascade of feel-good chemicals – you might know it as the ‘beer buzz’.
But when the alcohol stops, the levels of feel-good chemicals drop back below normal levels.
This could make you feel anxious or down the next day and, over time, cause long-term problems for your mental health.
Knowing how alcohol affects your brain, it’s easy to see how drinking can spiral out of control so quickly.
How do I know I need to cut down?
If you’re reading this because you’re wondering about how much you’re drinking, it’s a good sign you should cut down.
But if you’re not sure, there are a few signs of problem drinking you could look for.
Sign 1: You're drinking more than the Australian Guidelines
Because drinking alcohol is so common in Australia, it can be hard to know if you’re overdoing it.
The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Alcohol (The Australian Guidelines) can help you work out if the amount you’re drinking is a risk to your health.
Using the guidelines
To see how you’re doing, note down each drink you have over a week (by hand or using a drink tracking app like Drinks Meter) and compare your result with the standards.
Sign 2: your drinking is impacting your behaviour
Problem drinking can impact your life in a range of ways. You should take steps to reduce your drinking if you are:
- craving alcohol
- needing to drink more to feel the same effects
- feeling out of control — like you couldn’t cut down, even if you wanted to
- worrying about how much you’re drinking
- noticing changes in your physical or mental health because of alcohol
- noticing changes in your relationships because of alcohol
- noticing changes in your job performance because of alcohol
- experiencing any physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, anxiety or vomiting when you don’t have a drink.
A note on lower level alcohol use
You should also cut down on alcohol if your drinking falls within the Australian Guidelines, but you still:
- find it hard to go a day without drinking, and/or
- have trouble limiting the amount of alcohol you drink at one time.
Having even a low-level dependence on alcohol puts you at higher risk of developing problem drinking in the future.
If you think you are experiencing problem drinking, you should seek help from a self-help group or a professional right away.
How do I cut down my drinking?
We could all benefit from drinking less alcohol. But cutting down can seem daunting, especially because alcohol plays a central role in many social settings.
To get started, try using these strategies to make a positive change to your drinking habits.
Cut out triggers
Try avoiding social situations where drinking is the central feature.
- Organise alcohol-free events with your friends, like catching up for coffee instead of going to the pub.
- Suggest venues where non-alcoholic drinks are also available.
- Socialise more often with friends who don’t drink.
- Don’t keep alcohol in your house. Empty the bottles and remove temptation.
Just say no
Prepare ahead and arm yourself with strategies to stay alcohol-free at events.
- Practice your responses before you head out. Try ‘I’m taking the night off tonight’ or ‘I’ve got an early morning’.
- Volunteer to be the designated driver.
- Drink something non-alcoholic like a mocktail.
Make better choices
If you do choose to drink, change the way you order to reduce your alcohol intake.
- Choose low-strength alcohol, or add more mixers.
- Count standard drinks to keep track. There are a range of drink tracking apps available.
- Set a limit for yourself and stick to it.
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with water.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
Find support from your peers
If you think you need help to bring your drinking under control, reach out.
- Attend a self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Smart Recovery. Live and virtual groups provide support and understanding.
- Ask someone you care about to keep you accountable and help you track your drinking.
Make more time for you
Try using wellbeing activities to help you cope with stress that improve and strengthen your mental wellbeing.
- Take a walk after work instead of opening a drink.
- Use your free time on a new hobby or a community group.
- Practise mindfulness exercises to improve the way you respond to stress.
I need help to cut down my drinking. Where should I start?
If you need more help to get your drinking under control, contact an alcohol and drug counselling organisation like ADIS. These organisations exist to help people like you overcome problems with alcohol, no matter what your situation.
ADIS 24/7 Alcohol and Drug Support.
Free support for people in Queensland with alcohol and other drug concerns. Phone support for individuals, families, friends and health professionals, with information, self-assessment tools and downloadable resources.
Phone 1800 177 833