Maybe you’ve noticed you’re drinking more than normal. Maybe someone else has commented on your alcohol consumption…
Sophie from our counselling team has put together some top tips for anyone who is thinking about their drinking.
As a result of this pandemic, everyone’s lives have been affected, some much more than others. We’re all feeling the impacts of COVID-19 in our own ways and that doesn’t mean that life’s other stresses have gone away either. When our stress levels go up many people’s natural response might be to exercise, clean the house, call a friend to vent; for others it might be to drink alcohol or take other drugs.
About that drink
In the short term, alcohol can lift your mood, and can bring feelings of relaxation, euphoria and a numbness to stresses and problems. And at a stressful time, finding ways to get those feelings (or lack of feelings) can be essential.
Alternatively, alcohol can have the effect of connecting to or heightening feelings of sadness or anger. In a culture which has historically taken the: “Don’t moan, just get on with it, someone else probably has it worse than me anyway” approach, alcohol can sometimes be a way for difficult feelings to be there when it’s not possible to find another way – but being drunk can also mean not having as much choice over what to do with those feelings as when you’re sober.
Unlike other drugs – alcohol is readily for sale, in large quantities from some of the few places we’ve been told we’re allowed to go right now: the shops. Plus, messages, memes and adverts telling us to drink are there on pretty much all channels. It can seem like alcohol is in our faces everywhere, making it easier to drink more than planned.
Your feelings are understandable, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Alcohol and you
If you’re noticing yourself drinking more right now, or ever, there’s probably some good reasons for it. Drinking alcohol, especially if it’s in a way which doesn’t feel intentional or in control, is often a way of coping with something that’s hard. This can be true for other drugs too.
It’s also quite easy and really common to not feel able to apply that logic to ourselves and not understand it as a way of coping, even if we would do this for other people. Instead, we reach the conclusion “it’s because I am…” and then insert some variation on: lazy, weak, bad or unproductive.
Alternatively we might tune out from it and just try to avoid acknowledging that things have changed at all. But this can mean we’re looking at things too narrowly (like the opposite of rose tinted glasses) or not looking at what’s going on at all (which can be a vulnerable place to be in).
Things that might help
So if you’re noticing yourself drinking more right now, and you are worried about that or wanting to make changes to that pattern, here are some suggestions on how you can go about understanding what’s happening for you, and some alternative strategies you might want to put in place if these feel helpful to you:
Most importantly, try to be gentle with yourself. That’s not saying give yourself a free pass to do anything you want, and it doesn’t have to mean speaking to yourself in fluffy language if that’s not your thing. It’s more about having an honest conversation with yourself about what’s going on, what you need, and how can look after yourself. Try, even if it’s just a tiny bit, not to heap blame on top of what’s happening for you right now.
In reality, blame and shame often make it harder to change things, even if we think we can criticise ourselves out of something: that can actually make us want to double-down on our coping strategies (like booze) even more. So if you’re wanting to make changes, giving yourself permission to feel some understanding for yourself is a good start.
Recognise what is hard about right now
What effect have changes to your routine, your social life, your work (or not having work), had on you? What’s it like reading the news right now? Have you lost some of the things you measured yourself against? Eg: the gym, productivity, seeing people. Are you overwhelmed? Or bored? Or lonely? Or feeling cooped up? Do you notice any signs of stress in your body?
Or maybe there’s other more important things going on for you right now, and maybe that disconnect from everyone else’s story is also difficult. If ANY of this is going on for you right now, try and give yourself permission to recognise the difficulty: on your own terms, whether someone else has it worse or not.
It might be helpful to write things down or speak to someone (a friend or professionally) to figure this out. Knowledge is power. When you know and are in touch with things that are hard – you can get more connected with what you need to make things better. Think about what is missing for you right now. OK, so there’s some things we know we can’t do right now – but are there other ways to creatively get what you need? What’s stopping you – is it a real barrier or is something inside you holding you back? Get in touch with Crew! You can use the Contact Us page to find out about what support we can offer or contact our Drop-in team who are offering online information, advice and support.
Try to understand your alcohol consumption a little better. Try and answer some of the following questions:
- When do you drink – what’s going on for you at those times, and what do you most need in those moments?
- What are the upsides and what are the downsides to drinking at those times?
- Is alcohol actually the only/ best way to get what you need?
- Are there other other ways to get what you need – what are their upsides and downsides?
- What do you need to stay safe?
You’ve got this
Figure out what resources you have open to you – think about the things you most need right now, and then think about some of the ways you can get them. You could turn these into lists, eg:
- Five things or people that help you connected to the world
- Five things that relax you
- Five things that distract you
- Five things that comfort you
Often the times when we most need something to make ourselves feel better, is are also the times that it’s hardest to be motivated to think about or do these things. Get everything you need out in front of yourself and have some ideas there already.
Get some structure going. Lockdown brain fog is real. You can plan your days if your situation means that is possible. Make a timetable, a to do list, or use your calendar on your phone. This can help you actively choose what’s coming up and how to spend your time, and help you track and reflect what’s been going on. This can also help you keep an eye on your drinking as well as everything else. Your choices don’t have to be productive or self-improving, you don’t have to jump on the baking bandwagon, it’s more about actively deciding what’s right for you.
Mind, Body, Stomach
Remember the biology basics: we need light, movement, nutrition and sleep. Spend some time outside daily if you can and it’s safe, or by a window; move your body; remember to eat. Give yourself the best shot at getting a good sleep: Eg: limit screen time before bedtime, limit stimulants like caffeine in the evening and create a bedtime routine and stick to it.
Hopefully these tips are helpful for Lockdown and beyond. If you want to understand how your drinking compares to others try the Drinks Meter and if you are wondering how risky the way you take drugs try our ‘Check it out‘ tool. For more harm reduction information on alcohol visit our Drugs Information page.
Looking for support?
- Mental Health Foundation
- Breathing Space
- Scottish Drug Service Directory
- SHAAP guidelines
- Edinburgh and Lothains Council on Alcohol