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Alcohol consumption during lockdown: why moderation is key

Alcohol consumption during lockdown: why moderation is key

With more time on our hands and more stress in our life, alcohol may seem like a very good idea at the moment. But is it doing you a lot more harm than good?

Alcohol consumption during lockdown: why moderation is key

Research shows toilet paper isn’t the only thing people are stocking up on. In the US, alcohol sales increased by 55 percent in just one week according to market research firm Nielsen, a trend that can be seen worldwide.

John Clapp, professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work says the combination of COVID-19, its economic fallout and stay-at-home mandates can lead to increased drinking. “It’s stressful and boring. People are coping with kids at home, spouses, social stress, financial stress, work stress and the threat of disease. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that we’ve seen a spike in drinking.”

On March 26, the World Health Organisation released a report urging people not to turn to alcohol, saying it’s an “unhelpful coping strategy” during the pandemic.

There are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to keep your alcohol consumption in check:

  • Alcohol is a depressant. While initially you may get a relaxed feeling after one drink, over time it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety by lowering serotonin and norepinephrine levels, both of which help regulate mood.
  • Alcohol affects your sleep. While it can help you fall asleep faster, alcohol also contributes to poor quality sleep as it interrupts your circadian rhythm and blocks rapid eye moment (REM) sleep.
  • Alcohol weakens the immune system. Not an ideal side effect during a pandemic, alcohol weakens the immune system by changing the gut microbiome and damaging the immune cells that line the intestines, which makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter your bloodstream.
  • Alcohol can make you choose unhealthy food. Research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association shows that men and women who drink alcohol are less likely to eat whole grains and fruit, and they are more likely to eat unhealthy foods high in fat and sugar.

Professor Clapp says he’s particularly concerned about the potential for substance abuse relapse and says people need to recreate order in life through daily routine to help deal with this uncertain time. Daryl Davies, professor of clinical pharmacology at the USC School of Pharmacy and director of the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory at USC also says connecting to support networks is important.

So what is moderate drinking? According to the NZ Ministry of Health, to reduce the risk to your health, as well as harm to others, you should limit how much alcohol you drink. For women this is no more than two standard drinks per day (and no more than 10 per week, and have at least two alcohol-free days per week). For men this is no more than three standard drinks per day (and no more than 15 per week and at least two alcohol-free days per week). Keep in mind that these are upper limits— not recommended levels of drinking. People can still have alcohol-related problems within these limits, particularly if they have medical or mental health issues.

The NZ Ministry of Health offers the following tips for low-risk drinking:

  • Know what a standard drink is (for example a 330 ml can of beer at 4% alcohol = 1 standard drink and a 100 ml glass of table wine at 12.5% alcohol = 1 standard drink)
  • Keep track of how much you drink – daily and weekly.
  • Set limits for yourself and stick to them.
  • Start with non-alcoholic drinks and alternate with alcoholic drinks.
  • Drink slowly.
  • Try drinks with a lower alcohol content.
  • Eat before or while you are drinking.
  • Never drink and drive.
  • Be a responsible host.
  • Talk to your kids about alcohol.
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