Northern Ireland could see a wave of people seeking treatment for addiction due to increased drinking during lockdown, experts have warned.
While toilet rolls and pasta were fast disappearing off supermarket shelves as society shut down, so too was alcohol.
An estimated £100m was spent on booze here during this period.
One expert predicted "consequences" in the future - adding to a problem that already costs our health service up to £900m a year.
Dr George O'Neill said people will appear with "significant problems".
He estimates there are 170,000 people here - nearly one in 10 of our population - are putting themselves at risk because of their drinking.
The lockdown - which exacerbated pressures and issues such as loneliness - led to people who were not regular home drinkers finding their consumption has increased.
Some of the most popular services on offer in recent months have been drinks such as cocktails or pints delivered to your door.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) has been urging people to take a closer look at their drinking habits at home and give themselves an "alcohol MOT".
They said that in a pub or restaurant it can be much easier to keep track of what you are drinking than at home.
Because people are more likely to 'free pour' at home and fill the glass a bit more than when on a night out, the number of units is greater than we think.
The reopening of pubs has also led to warnings urging people not to overdo alcohol consumption.
The UK Chief Medical Officers' guidelines state that for both men and women to keep the risks from alcohol low, it is safest to drink no more than 14 units a week. They also advise if you drink as many as 14 units, to spread them out over three or more days and have several alcohol-free days a week.
Dr O'Neill, a Belfast GP who is chairman of charity Addiction NI, expects a rise in cases of addiction, problems associated with alcohol misuse and also mental health issues as a result of increased drinking during lockdown.
He said: "It's one of the problems that we are preparing to face, when things return to some sort of normality."
Dr O'Neill said that there will be "consequences" further down the line, adding: "We do think it's going to be a problem.
"We will find that there will be a whole clatter of people will appear with significant problems. It will be a mixture of physical and mental health problems and relationship problems."
He continued: "People that already have it (addiction problems), will have an increased problem and some will discover that they have developed, as a consequence of the significant increase of alcohol that has been consumed over this lockdown, a problem with alcohol."
He added: "Alcohol is freely available, you buy it in the supermarket. The major milestones in life - births, deaths, marriages, parties - all our social life revolves around alcohol and that must have consequences."
Dr O'Neill says there are around 170,000 hazardous drinkers in Northern Ireland - which is those who are putting themselves at risk.
There are around 47,000 harmful drinkers - people who put themselves at significant risk and have consequences.
And there are about 12,000 admissions to hospital every year as a direct consequence of alcohol. Dr O'Neill said the key to recovery is recognising the problem and seeking help.
He added: "The acceptance is the hardest bit, but once you break down that wall you really can be helped.
"We imagine - and as well as other mental health issues - it's not just going to be alcohol, but there will be a significant number of people suffering from anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder. There will be lots of things that are going to be appear after this pandemic resolves one way or the other."
Recent reports have underlined the impact on society of excessive drinking.
The 2018/19 Northern Ireland Health Survey, published by the Department for Health, showed that 79% of adults aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland drink alcohol.
Last month a report revealed that more than 200 hospital beds are occupied every day in Northern Ireland because of drink and drug abuse.
The report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office found that alcohol misuse alone costs up to £900m annually.
In 2019, the bill for A&E attendances linked to excess drinking was estimated at over £30m.
Dr Gillian Shorter is a Reader in Psychology at the Institute of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University whose research focuses on alcohol and drug use. She said now is the time to evaluate relationships with alcohol.
"The key thing is whether it's used habitually as a coping tool," she said.
"And that's when problems can start, when it starts to become the 'go to' rather than something that we occasionally indulge in."
Dr Shorter believes that lockdown has given people time to consider their relationship with alcohol and how it can mask other issues.
"Alcohol tends to be the thing we see, but there are a lot of things going on underneath that, that needs tackling or thought through. And the one thing we need to do is evaluate ourselves.
"That self awareness is really important."
For help and advice visit https://addictionni.com or www.drugsandalcoholni.info/mot
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