Educational charity Drinkaware found in August last year that one in five people were drinking more since the first national lockdown, while one in seven were experiencing the opposite.
They also found drinking spiked for those on furlough, with 36% drinking more in what later became dubbed as ‘furlough Merlot’.
At a similar time, a UCL study found young people in Australia had changed their drinking habits – with a surprising number choosing to drink less.
A separate study by Alcohol Change UK found that one in five were drinking more, and one in three were taking proactive steps to manage or stop drinking altogether.
The recurring themes throughout these studies were that people drank more due to stress while those drinking less did so because they didn’t have access to their usual drinking buddies and didn’t want to do so alone.
We’re about to get our social lives back in a steadily growing capacity with the current road out of the lockdown – so now is the time to assess our approach to alcohol.
Dr Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics tells Metro.co.uk it’s a good idea to think about how you plan to change or continue your drinking habits prior to ‘normal life’ resuming, regardless or whether you drank more or less over the last year.
‘Noticing how much better you feel [with drinking levels moderated] prior to lockdown lifting and being able to meet friends and socialise again will likely change your approach to sensible drinking,’ says Dr Perry.
He suggests keeping a diary to track when you drink.
‘Many of us may not realise the levels of booze we’re actually consuming, especially being in lockdown.
‘Plan ahead and look to have alcohol free days – if you drink every day start by drinking every other, and slowly reduce this down.
‘It’s important though not to binge on the days you do allow yourself to drink which will do more harm than good.’
If a diary feels like too much effort, Dr Sumera Shahaney, GP and head of Clinical Operations at Thriva, says you could try setting a drinking quota on a night out that you won’t pass, or you could take pictures of each beverage you consume so it becomes more real.
‘My worry would be that as lockdown eases, if [people drinking often at home] continues and that gets compounded by the fact that people will go out more – they’ll start drinking on top of what they’re doing at home as well,’ she tells us.
For those who have been drinking less purely due to missing friends, Dr Perry warns you shouldn’t use the continuation of your social life as an excuse to be reckless or bow down to peer pressure.
He says that on a practical level, your ‘individual tolerance for drinking will be vastly lower if you’re refrained from drinking in lockdown, therefore you’re going to feel the effects much quicker’.
‘If you so want to start introducing alcohol again, start slowly and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water in in-between each alcoholic beverage,’ he adds.
That means your pre-pandemic go-to will probably be stronger than you remember – so it’s best to ease back into drinking, starting with less than you usually would.
‘Drinking moderately can actually reduce certain health problems such as heart attack, strokes and diabetes,’ notes Dr Perry. ‘However, moderation needs to be kept in context.’
Dr Shahaney says for this group of people – who have lived with an absence of alcohol that wasn’t necessarily planned – they should look at the units they’re consuming as they begin to drink again.
‘Be very aware of units because a large glass of wine is not going to be the equivalent of a small glass, so I would be clocking that,’ she explains.
‘If you order doubles, go for singles instead.’
You might not feel the need to track your drinking if you’re not used to doing it so heavily, but that makes it all the more important.
Ailsa Frank, alcohol reduction specialist and co-founder of app Feel Amazing, says there are some practical things you can do ease back into drinking socially.
‘Visualise yourself returning from social events having had a great time but totally sober – this will program your mind to drink less.’
Or, she suggests you meet friends in environments in which you won’t feel a need to drink.
‘For instance if you met friends in a bar before, suggest meeting for a coffee in the park.
‘People have got used to not being in alcohol settings so try to keep this habit up,’ she adds, while also suggesting that if drinking tap water feels too boring, go for sparkling instead to make it still feel special.
And if friends don’t understand you choice to cut back?
Ailsa says: ‘The best way to handle friends and family around your reduction in drinking is to sell it to them as the most positive thing you have ever done in your life.’
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