Changing your drinking in lockdown: be kind to yourself

Richard Piper | May 2020 | 8 minutes

For Sober Spring, Alcohol Change UK's Chief Executive Dr Richard Piper considers what's really happening to the UK's drinking in lockdown, and offers advice to those seeking to make a change.

Looking at social media, you’d think we were all drinking our way through lockdown. I’m getting pretty tired of the constant drinking memes and the endless talk about wine o’clock. Talking to my friends and family I get a slightly more nuanced picture – but there’s still a real sense that alcohol is our lockdown buddy.

But I detect something underneath the jokes. There’s a sensitivity there. A need to laugh about our drinking, because the alternative feels too scary.

Last month we released research into drinking habits during lockdown. It showed a complicated picture.

As you might expect, one in five people are drinking more often in lockdown. These people tend to be people who were drinking more heavily and more often to start with. But at the same time, one in three people are drinking less often. And 6%, or more than one in twenty, said that they had stopped drinking specifically for lockdown.

This reflects the fact that many of us drink when things get tough – and when things are tougher, we drink more. But it also shows that many of us don’t feel comfortable with that - and we want to change. Some of us, dramatically so.

More than one in three people said they were taking active steps to manage their drinking during lockdown – ranging from limiting the amount of alcohol they buy, to downloading an app to track their drinking, to seeking support online.

One in three

One in three people are drinking less often during lockdown.

One in five

One in five people are drinking more often during lockdown.

One in three

More than one in three people are taking active steps to manage their drinking during lockdown.

I wonder how open these people are with their friends and family - and on social media - when the subject of drinking comes up? Not very, I’d wager. We tend to keep these worries and attempts to ourselves. So even though it may look like the UK is joyously drinking its socks off, there is a very different picture behind the bravado of drinking memes.

If you are taking part in Sober Spring, you wanted to change your drinking. How have you found that during lockdown? While we’re all going through a deeply strange time our experiences will be very different. Some of us will be dealing with the added pressures of caring responsibilities and home schooling. Many of us will be experiencing anxiety, a common drinking trigger. The key workers among us will have faced unique stresses. All of this may have made sticking to our Sober Spring goals harder.

But then, some of us will have found that lockdown has made Sober Spring easier. We’re not going out with friends, which might have been the main occasion when you drank before, and removing that drinking cue might have helped you stay dry. Life is very different, which could mean fewer drinking triggers. If that’s you, you might be starting to feel nervous about what will happen as lockdown begins to ease. (Next week, we’ll tackle that question!)

We’re two-thirds of the way through Sober Spring – a good time to start thinking about what will come next for you. Much of my advice for after Sober Spring and after lockdown is the same as during, and you can find that on our website, on the blog and the coronavirus information and advice hub. But the advice I’d like to share here is simple: be kind to yourself.

“The advice I’d like to share here is simple: be kind to yourself.”

That advice is also topical; this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme is kindness. When life is hard, when we struggle, many of us find ourselves turning to alcohol for comfort. We don’t give ourselves the space, time and kindness to accept that we are struggling and find ways to care for ourselves that work better and last longer than alcohol.

So this Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond, as you look ahead to life after lockdown and Sober Spring have ended, be kind to yourself. Ignore the drinking memes if you can. And if you need a bit of extra support, remember that it’s always open to you – whether through the Try Dry® app, the Sober Spring online community, or your local alcohol service. Find out more about getting advice during lockdown.

Being kind to yourself isn’t only about not drinking. I hinted at this earlier, but it’s so important to be kind to yourself when you slip up too, when things don’t go to plan. Many of us will drink at some point when we planned not to, and there’s nothing to be gained by beating ourselves up about it. Instead, treat yourself as you would treat a friend: with kindness. Ask yourself what happened and come up with a plan for next time. Then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go back to your drinking goals.