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Reducing harm caused by alcohol

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Survey shows Scots lockdown drinking rise caused by stress

A new survey commissioned by Alcohol Focus Scotland and Alcohol Change UK found that in Scotland people who were already drinking at high levels before the pandemic were more likely to have increased their drinking during lockdown, and stress was a key factor.

The representative Opinium survey of 550 adults in Scotland shows over a quarter (27%) of respondents reported drinking more than usual during lockdown, worryingly this figure increases to a third for those drinking at higher levels before lockdown (33% of those drinking seven or more units on a single occasion).

In times of stress some people can drink more often or more heavily. Dealing with stress was cited by around one fifth of all respondents as a reason for drinking. For those drinking more than usual, more than half (51%) said this has been a way to handle stress or anxiety.

These new habits have been a source of worry for many, with almost half (48%) of those who reported drinking more during lockdown having felt concerned at the levels they are consuming.

Meanwhile almost one fifth of all respondents (18%) reported feeling concerned about the amount a friend or family member is drinking during lockdown.           

Encouragingly, 54% of those who reported drinking more than usual during lockdown have already taken steps to manage their drinking, and 59% plan to do so once lockdown eases.  Almost two-fifths (37%) of those drinking more than usual expect to drink less as pubs and restaurants reopen, however a quarter (24%) expect their drinking to increase further at this time.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said, “While it is encouraging to hear that people who have been drinking more during lockdown are planning to take action to reduce their intake, it can be hard to change habits once they are established. Stress was identified as a key factor for many and unfortunately these stresses aren’t necessarily going to go away with the easing of lockdown restrictions. Many people are worrying about going back to work, their children returning to school, or concerned about using public transport. Some may not have a job to return to, creating additional uncertainty at an already difficult time.

“It can be tempting to have a drink to “take the edge off” our worries but alcohol is a depressant that can increase our anxiety and disrupt our sleep, making it more difficult to deal with stress.  Our alcohol use may become part of the problem, taking a toll on our mental and physical health and damaging our relationships. 

“We need to make sure that people can get ready access to the help they need to address patterns of drinking which may place them at increased risk of illness - including of coronavirus complications – and put more pressure on our health services.

“Alcohol services, which were already hard-pressed before this crisis, may experience even greater demand after it. 

“Alongside adequate service provision it is crucial that our national recovery effort builds on the good work we have started in addressing Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. By addressing how readily available alcohol is and how heavily it is marketed we can improve the lives of thousands of Scots by preventing problems developing in the first place.”

The figures from the polling indicate that lockdown may have added to our already unhealthy relationship with alcohol with more of us drinking more to deal with stress and worrying about the consequences. Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, who provide support for anyone concerned about someone else’s drinking or drug use, see the reality of increased consumption every day. Since March they have experienced unprecedented numbers of calls to their helpline with people seeking support for themselves and their loved ones.

Justina Murray, chief executive of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, said, “The number of people contacting the Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs Helpline during lockdown has been twice the level for the same period last year (mid-March to mid-July). This includes a four-fold increase in people contacting us with concerns about their own substance use, as well as a 56% increase in contact from family members concerned about others. Lockdown has brought tremendous pressures on families affected by their loved ones drinking, with alcohol consumption increasing, consumption within the home increasing, and many of the usual support mechanisms not available to families during this period.”