Man walking his dog outside
Man walking his dog outside

Drinking to cope: Cody’s story

The coronavirus is causing significant angst while at the same time limiting the outlets people normally use to relieve stress. As a result, this is a particularly difficult time for people who have previously used alcohol as a coping mechanism.

This personal account from Cody details his journey with alcohol and how he is coping with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’ve been thinking recently about people who are drinking to cope during the coronavirus pandemic.

For years, I was a heavy drinker. I drank to have fun with mates and to relax after a day at work. Without realising it, I was drinking when I felt bored – out of habit.

And I was drinking when I felt stressed.

Eventually, I was drinking at least six pre-mixed drinks every night and almost a full bottle of spirits a night on Fridays and Saturdays.

I never thought that was a lot of booze. In fact, I always thought it was normal. The reality is that I had become a heavy drinker six years ago and I didn’t even know it.

I was 18 at the time, using alcohol daily to suppress my social anxiety and depression. One morning, I decided I had two options – take my own life or seek support for my mental health.

My girlfriend at the time knew I should see someone about my mental health and had been urging me for months to reach out.

I didn’t want to hear it, so I’d put on an act and faked stability so she would leave the topic alone.

Of course, I couldn’t sustain the act for long and the cycle would repeat itself.

It wasn’t until I decided I wanted to get on top of my issues that I heeded her advice.

And it was certainly the right choice.

I came to understand that I was deceiving myself into thinking I was OK when deep down, I knew I wasn’t.

By drinking to cope, I was delaying getting the support I needed. Effectively, I was stalling my own recovery.

I saw my GP, admitted I was struggling and asked for a referral to see a psychologist. I walked out of that consultation with a huge grin on my face, an unbearable weight lifted from my shoulders.

With the help of therapy, I have taken several actions to improve my wellbeing and cut down on my drinking.

I learnt to meditate, a practice I still use to calm myself if I feel I’m getting anxious.

I continue to exercise daily and bought a dog a few years ago. I have no excuse to skip a morning run or evening walk because Oscar has to get his exercise too.

I still drink more than I should, but I have made progress on reducing my consumption and am committed to cutting down even more.

To help with this, I’ve set myself some ground rules around my alcohol intake, which combined with therapy, meditation and exercise, has had a profoundly positive effect on my mental health.

For me, sleep is crucial. If I’m waking during the night, that’s a signal that I need a break from drinking, even if I’ve met my minimum two alcohol-free days in that week.

I also make sure to reach out to my support network – my family and close circle of friends.

Maintaining connections with these important people in my life has been challenging since the COVID-19 outbreak. The Easter long weekend was particularly difficult because I was at home on my own.

I made sure to stay connected with my family and friends through digital technology such as Messenger, texting and video calls with Zoom because it’s important to see people.

I kept myself busy, but I did have one day where I broke my rules.

It was a rare slip-up, but I’ve been able to quickly get back on track.

Which was what got me thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it might have caused people to start drinking more.

In my role as a volunteer for mental health organisation Beyond Blue, I get asked to speak publicly about ways we can maintain our mental health.

My best piece of advice is: at the first sign that you might be struggling, reach out.

If drinking is becoming an issue, don’t let it get to a point where, like me, you’re having suicidal thoughts. Ask yourself some questions and be honest.

Are you:

  • Starting to drink earlier each day?
  • Consuming more alcohol as time goes on?
  • Waking at night and having difficulty getting back to sleep?
  • Finding it difficult to have alcohol-free days?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, don’t fret.

Be kind to yourself and understand that support is available.

About 3 million Australians experience anxiety and depression in any given year and with professional support, you can get better.

The earlier you see a GP or mental health professional, the sooner you can learn healthy ways to cope instead of reaching for that next drink.

For further useful advice, check out our article on managing your alcohol intake during the coronavirus pandemic.

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