Managing your alcohol intake

If the uncertainty and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused your relationship with alcohol to feel out of balance lately, be assured there is help available and you’re not alone.

It’s natural in times of stress and uncertainty to look for coping methods that can help restore a sense of calm.

A glass of wine after a tough day might feel like a reward.

But the rebound effects after drinking can amplify feelings of anxiety and depression.

The restrictions brought about by COVID-19 brought major disruption to our lives – and forced us to spend more time at home – so it was easy to slip into a habit of drinking more than we planned. As we now adapt to a COVID-normal way of living, it’s possible that habit remains.

If you’re drinking more than you’re comfortable with and would like to cut back, it’s important to know that help is available.

You’re not alone

Hello Sunday Morning is a website and online community that supports people to reduce their drinking or cut out alcohol entirely.

At the peak of the first national lockdown, traffic to the site increased significantly and registrations to the associated app doubled as people grappled with the emotional and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hello Sunday Morning founder, Chris Raine, said it was an anxiety-inducing time and it’s not surprising some people were, and still are, finding it difficult to manage their alcohol intake.

He points to the ‘holiday phenomenon’ when restrictions were first introduced, "where you take away some of your responsibilities or your routines and boundaries – and instead you fill your days with things that you think will make you feel good, and alcohol is one of those things,” he said.

"Then there’s also dealing with the nitty gritty of family dynamics or relationships that you can’t escape from, or loneliness – all of these uncomfortable things leads to people turning to the bottle to escape from it."

Practical steps to curb your drinking

There are some practical steps you can take if you want to cut back on drinking.

Start with increasing your number of alcohol-free days each week and try to swap drinking for other activities like exercise, meditation or a hobby.

If having alcohol readily available is too much of a temptation, then consider not having it in the house or keeping it out of sight.

“Often we use alcohol to escape difficult experiences or feelings so try to be very mindful of when you’re drinking and why,” Raine said.

"Before you reach for that beer, think about what does a healthy relationship with alcohol look like – when, how much and for what reason?"

You might also consider checking out the Daybreak app, which links you with an online community, provides suggested habit-changing experiments and also connects you with health coaches and counsellors.

How alcohol affects your mood

It’s important to understand the way alcohol affects your mood.

It can interfere with your sleep, make tricky emotions harder to manage and reduce your ability to stay calm and grounded.

Hangover anxiety is a real phenomenon, and that unsettling morning-after feeling is likely to feel even more acute in times of high stress.

In a previous Beyond Blue article for our Am I Normal series, addiction medicine specialist Professor Jon Currie explained that hangovers can produce as many emotional symptoms as physical ones.

"After a big night of drinking, essentially your body is in withdrawal from alcohol and that brings that dreadful feeling of doom and anxiousness and restlessness and the sense that you can’t settle", he said.

For further explanation as to why this occurs, read the full article on Hangover Anxiety here .

For some people, alcohol can intensify feelings of depression, hopelessness and loneliness. You may find yourself having a few drinks to try and escape your problems but end up dwelling on them more.

It’s also important to understand that alcohol interferes with your brain’s ability to solve problems. For more information, check out the Drugs, alcohol and mental health page on the Beyond Blue website.

In these challenging times, cutting back alcohol, or cutting it out altogether, can play a major role in helping you look after your mental health.

But you don’t have to go it alone.

Cody, who has turned to alcohol in the past as a coping mechanism during difficult times, shares his personal story here.

To learn more about Hello Sunday Morning and their Daybreak program you can head here.

To learn more about addiction – one of Australia’s most one of Australia’s most misunderstood health conditions – check out Rethink Addiction.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has put together a range of helpful resources and links around the use of alcohol and other drugs in relation to COVID-19.

And if you do feel you need more support to stop drinking, make a telehealth appointment with your GP.

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