Since the coronavirus lockdown, our lives have changed a lot. We’ve seen supermarket shortages, daily government updates, and a new nationwide routine in the form of the weekly Clap For Carers. But there is one change you may not have thought about or even noticed. The UK’s relationship with alcohol is shifting. Despite pubs and bars closing for weeks and even months at a time, sales of alcohol rose. A new survey suggests that 8.6 million British adults (just over 20%) said they were drinking more frequently in lockdown. On the other hand, up to 14 million (or one in three) adults were taking steps to manage or stop their drinking.
Today’s article will firstly outline the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, before moving on to some helpful tips for cutting down. We’ve tried to make sure that these tips can apply to life in lockdown, but will also be helpful in the future.
NHS Guidelines on Alcohol
In 2016, the Chief Medical Officers issued new guidelines on alcohol consumption. The latest UK guidelines on alcohol advise that men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units per week. This is equal to:
- Six pints of 4% beer.
- Six glasses of 13% wine.
- 14 standard 25ml glasses of 40% spirits.
If you do drink 14 units per week, the NHS suggest that you spread your drinking out over three or more days. Meanwhile, anybody who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink any alcohol at all.
The Health Risks of Too Much Alcohol
While alcohol can definitely be a part of a healthy lifestyle, it can also be very easy to drink more than you should.
Drinking more than 14 units per week can increase your risk of developing several long term medical conditions. It can be tricky to notice how much you’re drinking, particularly if you frequently drink alcohol with meals. Some people could exceed 14 units per week without even feeling drunk!
After several years of drinking more than 14 units per week, you can develop:
- Liver disease.
- Heart disease.
- Cancers of the mouth, throat, and breast.
- Brain damage.
- Damage to the nervous system.
This is not to mention the dangers to your mental health. It is important to realise that alcohol is a depressant. There is a known link between symptoms or depression and regular heavy drinking, although it is difficult to separate cause and effect. In other words, it is hard to say whether drinking causes symptoms of depression, or whether people with symptoms of depression are more likely to drink. There is also evidence to support links between alcohol misuse and anxiety, self-harm, psychosis, and suicide.
Aside from the long term risks mentioned above, the risk of alcohol poisoning increases with each unit you drink. Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drink a toxic amount of alcohol during a short period of time, otherwise known as binge drinking. It is known to cause severe dehydration, seizures, hypothermia, and even heart attacks. As such, it can severely damage your health or even put your ife in danger. You can find out more about the risks, symptoms, and treatments on the NHS website.
“In 2017/18, there were an estimated 1,171,253 [hospital] admissions related to alcohol consumption in England, where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for hospital admission or a secondary diagnosis – a figure that is 3% higher than 2016/17, and one that represents 7.2% of all hospital admissions.” – Drinkaware
Drinking too much can also have consequences on your relationships and family life. Alcohol can impact your judgement and lead you to make risky decisions. In some cases this can cause arguments or violence. Family life may become strained, especially when you consider the cost of alcohol. Over the past few years, in an attempt to make the country healthier, the government have been adding more tax onto the price of alcohol.
Alcohol consumption can also affect your appearance. The number of calories in alcoholic drinks can lead to what it commonly known as a ‘beer belly’. In short, the more you drink, the more bloated your stomach and face will become.
Top Tips for Cutting Down on Alcohol
Fortunately, there are lots of tips that you can follow to help cut down your drinking, or even quit altogether. Here are our top five:
1. Let your Friends and Family Know!
If you want the best chance of sticking to your goal, you should inform the people around you. This is important for a number of different reasons. Firstly, once they know that you’re trying to cut down (and, equally importantly, the reasons why), they can help to keep you on track. Perhaps they may even decide to join you!
Letting friends and family know also means that they’re less likely to put you in a position where you may be tempted. Your family will know to keep alcohol out of the house, while your friends will remember not to offer you a pint before the football or after work.
The support and acceptance of your loved ones can go a long way in achieving your goal.
2. Avoid Temptation
Letting your loved ones know about your plans is a great way to prevent offers of alcohol from other people. However, you also need to help yourself by avoiding temptation. This is especially important during the early weeks of your journey while old habits are still fresh in the mind.
The best way of doing this is to try and recognise all the situations where you are likely to want a drink or two. Once you understand your triggers, you can work out how to avoid them. For example, instead of heading down to the pub with your partner, why not suggest a trip to the cinema?
Instead of having a glass of wine with your evening meal, ensure that there is a jug of water or juice on the table. Not only will this keep you hydrated but it may even help you finish your meal without feeling bloated.
If you know that you like a drink when eating out, ensure that you’re the designated driver for a trip to a restaurant. There are strict limits on drinking for drivers, but there is no way of saying how many drinks will take you over the limit. This is because alcohol has different affects on different people, depending on their weight, age, sex, and many other factors. If you’re driving, the safest thing to do is to abstain from alcohol entirely.
3. Give Yourself a Budget
If you’re cutting down on drinking but not stopping entirely, then it’s a good idea to give yourself a budget. You can set a weekly or monthly limit on how much you’re allowed to spend on alcohol. In order to help you cut down, you should give yourself a budget that will only allow you to buy a small amount.
There are ways to ensure that you stick to your budget. For example you could get your drinking allowance out in cash at the start of the month and only take a small amount with you when you’re planning to drink. Without a debit or credit card, you won’t be able to buy more than you are allowing yourself.
You could even come up with some form of forfeit if you fail to stick to your budget. You could deduct your overspend from next month’s budget, or do a household chore that you don’t like doing. Alternatively, you could motivate yourself with a reward if you stick to your budget. Why not use the money you have saved to treat yourself to some new clothes or a fancy dinner?
4. Set Realistic Goals and Reward Yourself
All things considered, it can be difficult to give up alcohol completely, especially if you’ve been a frequent drinker for some time time. Going cold turkey can be a frustrating process, but it is possible. For most people, cutting down as opposed to giving up completely can bring lots of health benefits and is largely easier to stick to.
Whether you cut down gradually or kick the habit straight away, it’s important to set specific, achievable goals. For example, if you normally drink three pints at the pub, try limiting yourself to two. Or, if you normally have a drink every day, try not to drink for two days each week. Then, as you adjust, increase it to three nights, then four and so on. Just don’t try to ‘make up for lost time’ and drink all the units you would have had on the other days. Moderation is key.
5. Go Smaller and Stay Hydrated
Here’s a tip to help you stay on track for the occasions when you choose to drink. Buy your drinks in smaller servings. Instead of a pint, go for a bottled beer or half a pint. Instead of a large glass of wine (a standard ‘large’ is 250ml or one third of a bottle), go for the smaller serving of 125ml.
Paying attention to the strength of your drinks will also help. It’s easy to think just in terms of pints and half-pints, but alcohol content can vary widely from beer to beer or wine to wine, for example. Moreover, try and avoid spirits as much as you can, as they have very high alcohol content. All percentage information should be visible on the label, but don’t be afraid to ask bar staff if it’s not clear.
It’s especially important to stay hydrated if you’re planning on having a drink. Whether you’re drinking at home or in a pub or restaurant, you should alternate alcoholic drinks with water or a soft drink.
Stay Strong and Reap the Benefits
Those are our tips for cutting down your drinking or giving up entirely. As has been noted, reducing your alcohol intake is no easy task, especially in such turbulent times as the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s important to maintain self-discipline and stick to your goals, but it’s equally important to celebrate every milestone. One thing you should definitely do along the way is to take note of all the benefits you are enjoying. These include:
- Better sleep – you will feel less tired throughout the day; your concentration will improve.
- Better mood – hangovers often make you feel low, but you don’t need to worry about those anymore!
- Stronger immune system – your body will be better at fighting infections.
- More money – the average UK household spends £868 on alcohol each year. Think of how much you will save!
- Better skin – alcohol causes dehydration, the main culprit behind wrinkles, redness, blotchy skin and enlarged pores.
- Better weight management – if you’re carrying a few extra pounds, alcohol can be an obstacle when it comes to weight loss.
Once you’ve decided to cut back or quit, why not keep a log or journal of the process? This will help you track your goals and understand how far you’ve come.
For more tips on how to cut down your alcohol intake, take a look at the Drinkaware website.
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Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 18 May 2020 to reflect current information.
Originally published 3 Jan 2018.