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Worried about how much you're drinking in lockdown? Here's what you can do...

If you think you need to cut down on your alcohol intake, follow these practical steps from the experts

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Bad habit: one in five of us are drinking more during lockdown

Bad habit: one in five of us are drinking more during lockdown

Bad habit: one in five of us are drinking more during lockdown

From 'virtual drinks' to, 'I've earned a G&T', drinking has, for many of us, become synonymous with lockdown. And even if you drank alcohol to some extent before coronavirus, you may well be among those drinking more right now.

A survey by Alcohol Change has found that one in five of us are drinking more in lockdown - equating to around 8.6 million adults. Meanwhile, 7% of those surveyed said alcohol made tension worse in their household during lockdown.

Extra stress can be a factor

"Stress can be a big trigger for drinking. Combine that with the added pressures and boredom of lockdown, and it's not surprising we might find ourselves reaching for a drink more often," says Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK (alcoholchange.org.uk).

While one in three of us are now drinking less than before lockdown, it is, he says, "concerning that one in five of us are drinking more frequently", especially when "those who were heavier drinkers before lockdown seem to be more likely to fall into this camp".

Beware the slippery slope

Millie Gooch, founder of the Sober Girls Society (instagram.com/sobergirlsociety), warns that a change in your drinking habits can creep up on you gradually. "Drinking problems don't really just materialise overnight, they're subtle and can creep up on us without us realising," she says.

"If alcohol is being used as a coping mechanism for stress or anxiety then it's more likely negative habits will form. As alcohol can actually exacerbate anxiety, it means we can get into a cycle of drinking to feel less anxious, (but) actually feeling more anxious and so drinking more." It's a cycle that's quite hard to get out of, she notes.

"Turning to alcohol as the way we deal with stress, anxiety and feeling low can actually worsen these problems," agrees Piper, adding that "drinking habits can prove hard to break, so we can't assume that it will be easy to go back to how we were drinking before lockdown."

Try and separate booze from boredom

"Many people tell us their trigger for drinking is boredom. During lockdown we might be bored more often, and so find ourselves falling into drinking," notes Piper. "We might also use alcohol as a way to distinguish work time from fun time. But there are other ways to have fun which don't involve alcohol."

While Gooch says: "Drinking during the day, or even during the week (if you're only used to drinking at the weekend), is becoming more normalised, (and) these routines are harder to get out of. The more we drink, the more our tolerance levels increase and therefore we have to up our intake to get the same effects."

Take stock of your drinking

'Quarantinis' may seem like a bit of fun and a laugh in lockdown, but if, beneath the humour, you're worried about your alcohol intake, it's perhaps time to take stock. "While our drinking might be the last thing we want to worry about at the moment, managing how much we drink is a key part of looking after our mental and physical health - which is all the more important during the Covid-19 pandemic," says Piper.

Laura Willoughby MBE, co-founder of mindful drinking movement Club Soda (joinclubsoda.com) - which is hosting lockdown-focused podcast episodes - says: "When big events happen that are completely outside our control, it is easy to shut down our emotions by drinking. The reality is, we will be much better off in the long-term if we learn to deal with those emotions properly."

Willoughby recommends you "look ahead to who you want to be when this is all over, and focus on the bigger picture. Where do you want your life to be in 12 months time? What role does alcohol play in this vision of the future you? If you can begin to visualise yourself in the future, you can begin to ask yourself some fundamental questions about drinking.

"Ask yourself where, when, who and what you want to drink, so you can make more conscious decisions about the role of alcohol in your life."

Choose booze-free options

There are lots of alcohol-free drinks options to consider now, and if you miss 'cocktail hour', why not rebrand it 'mocktail hour'? You might just find friends are as relieved as you to avoid more alcohol. You could also suggest to friends that you connect for a weekend coffee, or brunch.

Making the call in the morning can eliminate the alcoholic option, while afternoon tea, with your own bakes, can be fun too.

Find a supportive virtual community

Chatting to friends for solidarity is one thing, but you can also reach out virtually to a community of non-drinkers who can offer support and helpful advice via social media.

As well as Club Soda and Sober Girls Society, there's Sober Mom Tribe, which aims to flip the 'mummy drinking culture' on its head, and Sober & Social on Instagram.

You could also follow some celebs who don't drink, like Jennifer Lopez and chef Tom Kerridge.

Gooch recommends: "If you really don't want to face the questions about you're not drinking then get an alcohol-free alternative. An alcohol-free beer poured into a pint glass with look exactly the same on Zoom as no one will ever have to know.

Mix up your social activities

"Try and suggest more activity-based Zoom things, too," says Gooch. "I always bring a quiz or something similar to a Zoom chat because it not only gives me something to do, but it means the focus isn't just based around drinking."

Alcohol Change has a dedicated hub for anyone concerned about their drinking habits in lockdown at alcoholchange.org.uk

Belfast Telegraph