Have you been drinking more since lockdown?

If so, you are not the only one…

With pubs being forced to close amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many of us have enjoyed an extra tipple or two at home. However, many of us will not have properly considered the long-term consequence of this, including the negative health issues that come with increased or excessive alcohol consumption.

When it comes to sorting life insurance cover, the cost depends on a few things, including information related to your general health and lifestyle. Basically, the younger and healthier you are, the cheaper life insurance will be for you, but issues related to alcohol can impact this.

For the following article, we collaborated with Andrew Kinder, Head of Mental Health Services at Optima Health, Tai Ibitoye, Registered Dietitian at Tai Talks Nutrition and Christine Wright, Founder of Habit Breaker, to discuss the impact of lockdown on the nation’s alcohol consumption, the health implications of excessive drinking or alcohol addiction, as well as sharing expert advice on reduce your intake and what the long-term benefits of doing so are. Read on to find out more.

Drinking habits in the UK, and the impact of lockdown

Over 10 million people in the UK are drinking at levels that are risking their health or affecting others. Alcohol harm costs the NHS at least £3.5bn every year and our police, courts and prisons at least another £4bn.

Approximately 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines, which increases their long-term risk of becoming ill.

It was reported that a lot of people stocked up on alcohol due to the closure of pubs and restaurants, with a SkyNews report revealing that there was a 67% increase in alcohol sales before lockdown was imposed. The reason for this is multifactorial, but the coronavirus pandemic and social isolation may exacerbate pre-existing issues with alcohol and those at risk of alcohol dependency.

According to Alcohol Change, more than one in five (21%) adults who drink alcohol are drinking more often since lockdown and nearly one in five (18%) daily drinkers have further increased the amount they drink. The findings suggest that 8.6 million adults in the UK are drinking more frequently since lockdown.

An editorial published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlighted that alcohol dependence will be triggered by bereavement, job insecurity, or troubled relationships.

Research by DrinkAware also found that 36% of furlough workers have increased their alcohol consumption since the start of lockdown, versus the nationwide average of 24%. The BMJ research also found that, before COVID-19, only 1 in 5 harmful and dependent drinkers got the help they need; the proportion is now expected to be even lower now.

The implications of excessive alcohol consumption

Andrew Kinder explained that “alcohol use and misuse is linked to a wide range of mental health issues, including depression, insomnia, anxiety and it's even a factor in suicide rates. Ultimately, alcohol is a depressant and it changes the chemical balance of the brain. The more we drink, the more damage we can do and if we drink heavily and regularly, we start to develop symptoms of depression”.

Alongside contributing to feelings of depression, alcohol can affect mental health in several other ways, including:

  • Memory loss
    • “Alcohol slows down the processes in the brain, which means we can forget the things we get up to when drunk. Frequently drinking too much can cause more permanent damage to the brain”
  • Suicide and self-harm
    • “Research shows that more than half of people admitted to hospital because of deliberate self-harm and injury confessed to drinking immediately before or while they’d done it”
  • Relationship breakdown
    • “Although alcohol can help to build relationships, it can also lead to arguments and bad behaviour that contributes to relationship breakdown”
  • Poor sleeping habits
    • “Whilst some people claim to sleep better when they’ve had a drink or two, alcohol disrupts the regular sleep cycle, so we feel tired, irritable and dehydrated the following day, often craving unhealthy foods”

As well as impacting mental health, Tai Ibitoye adds that “excessive (more than 14 units a week) and prolonged drinking can lead to chronic medical conditions including certain cancers (like mouth, throat, and breast cancer), liver disease, brain damage stroke, cardiovascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure) and damage to the nervous system”.

Reducing your alcohol consumption during lockdown

Tai added 8 practical tips on how people can reduce their alcohol consumption during lockdown:

1)    Go for smaller sizes

-       People can still enjoy alcohol if they choose to drink it, but they can opt for smaller sizes. For instance, instead of having a large glass of wine, they can have a small glass instead

2)    Consider different drink options

-       Instead of having an alcoholic drink with strong strength (ABV in %), opt to have a non-alcoholic drink or low-alcoholic drink instead. You can also stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water, juices, and smoothies instead which are healthier alternatives

3)    Speak to friends, families, or someone that you trust

-       You can let your friends and family know (via telephone or other means of communication if they do not live with you) that you are trying to reduce your alcohol consumption so that they can support you

4)    Be mindful when drinking

-       Sip a drink slowly so it lasts longer. Also, consider the reasons why you are drinking. If it is related to stress, worry and anxiety then it is important you seek support from friends and families or from alcohol support services. Local alcohol services may be offering remote services, and this can be accessed by speaking to your GP who will be able to make a referral if needed. Having said this, practising mindfulness and meditation may help you to de-stress; Apps like Calm and DrinkCoach are very helpful

5)    Reduce intake of snacks high in salt

-       Snacks high in salt like crisps and salted nuts can make you feel thirstier and you may feel like having an alcoholic beverage. Instead, opt to have foods that have high-water content like fruits (watermelon, melon, strawberries, and blueberries) and soups, juices, and smoothies

6)    Change your environment

-       You may want to consider getting rid of alcoholic drinks in your house so that it is out of sight or buy less of it so that you can consume less. You can also ensure that there is a glass or bottle of water or non-alcoholic drink available in your kitchen, in your room on the table when you're eating so that it is accessible for you to drink instead of drinking an alcoholic drink

7)    Do something else

-       Consider fun and healthier ways to get yourself active and busy so that you are not thinking about alcohol. This may be going for a jog (as we can go out for exercise if we maintain social distancing), workout out indoors, dancing around the house or picking a new hobby

8)    Challenge yourself

-       To take a break from regularly drinking alcohol. Challenge yourself to have at least 2 or 3 alcohol-free days each week. Be sure not to save up all your units when you do consider drinking alcohol during your 'alcohol' days

Long term benefits of reducing alcohol consumption

Christine Wright explained that “excessive alcohol consumption can cause chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, mental health issues and digestive problems”.

Christine continued that “the benefits of reducing your alcohol consumption include: reduced chances of getting liver cancer, or cirrhosis of the liver; better long term physical and mental health; weight loss; increased energy; improvement in sleeping pattern; and relationships will improve.

“The lesser known benefits include: healthier skin; improved sex performance; gain a healthier digestive system; improved dental health, as alcohol is the second cited reason for tooth decay and ulcers; and monetary savings”.

Tai added that increased self-awareness and the monetary aspects are other unexpected benefits – regularly buying alcohol can be expensive, and so not buying alcohol as often can surprisingly help you save money that you can use for something more beneficial to you

At Cavendish Online, we offer various options to help you find the best insurance for you. You can apply for a policy online yourself, in just a few minutes. Alternatively, you can choose to speak with one of our specialists over the phone, who can guide you through the process and help you choose the best cover for you and your family. 

For help with your new life insurance policy, call one of our consultants on 01392 241 850. 

Disclaimer:The tips in this article are not intended as a substitute for medical advice and should not replace the relationship that exists between a patient and their existing healthcare provider. Cavendish Online are not liable or responsible for the accuracy of the advice provided by third party experts, nor for the content or operation of any third party websites, webpages, or resources which have been linked to within this article.

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