How the pandemic and lockdown has changed how we drink alcohol, for better and for worse
Health

How the pandemic and lockdown has changed how we drink alcohol, for better and for worse

As a new government report suggests over 8 million people are currently drinking at a “harmful” level, Stylist spoke to three women on how the pandemic and lockdown changed their relationship to alcohol.

The pressure and stress of Covid-19 has undoubtedly taken its toll on many aspects of our wellbeing, but according to data from the government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, over 8 million people are currently drinking at a level that is harmful to their health.

The increase has been widely attributed to the pandemic, as the switch to consuming alcohol at home during lockdown has enabled longer and heavier drinking sessions.

“Prior to the pandemic, I would have a glass of wine with dinner at the weekends but never during the week,” Lisa*, 42, tells Stylist. However, Lisa says that the pressure and stress of lockdown took its toll and prompted her to start drinking more.

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“I had to juggle homeschooling my two children (one of whom has additional support needs), while working and I found I became very overwhelmed by life, generally. I suffered from mum guilt at not properly teaching my children and was very anxious that I would “get caught” not properly performing at work because my attention was often diverted to my children. I also became very resentful of my husband, who would disappear upstairs every day at 8.30am to work a full day and appear back downstairs at 5.30pm when his working day was over.

“I also felt very isolated and began to become socially anxious too. All in all, I felt pretty low and so the one thing I would look forward to was my daily G&T.

“Once I’d had this, I would inevitably have a glass of wine or two with dinner and then I would feel a bit more chilled and give less of a damn about what was going on – it was a total escapism.”

Sara*, 24, agrees. “When I think back to the first lockdown, I was drinking more than I usually would. But when I moved out into a flat with friends in the summer of 2020, before the second lockdown, I definitely started drinking too much,” she tells Stylist.

My flatmates and I would start by serving a perfectly timed gin and tonic at 5pm on the dot pretty much every night, which would always escalate into a few more glasses. Every Friday, the three of us would get through about four bottles of wine, just because it was something to do.

“All of us were dealing with the feeling that life was just passing us by and our best years were being wasted, so I guess in a way we were just looking for any reason to mark the occasion. And alcohol was the only way we felt we could truly do that when we were confined to our homes.”

How the pandemic and lockdown has changed how we drink alcohol, for better and for worse
Data suggests that working from home has enabled an increase in alcohol consumption throughout the pandemic

Sara says that her relationship to alcohol is now much more balanced. “I enjoy the odd glass of wine on a weeknight but mainly leave it to the weekends, and I feel lucky that it was always just a social thing for me. I never drank alone or out of what felt like necessity; it just became part of a routine that I enjoyed when it felt like I had literally nothing else to look forward to. It’s a worrying thought to look back on, but it’s how a lot of my friends felt.”

However, it hasn’t been the case for everyone. For Clarissa, 32, being in lockdown and a lack of social occasions has actually reduced her alcohol intake.

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“Once upon a time, I would go on dates each week and try to meet with friends regularly, making sure to do a couple of social activities each week, but I’ve cut down quite a bit since the pandemic started. These events would always involve a couple of drinks, nothing crazy, but a few G&Ts, some cocktails or some prosecco.

However, I simply don’t go on as many dates as I used to and I have found myself quite often working during the evening. I’ve gone from drinking a couple of glasses three to four nights a week, to just once every two weeks.”

Clarissa welcomes the change in her drinking habits. “While I’m fine at working the next day after a few drinks, it does feel nice to no longer be getting home late in the evening and feeling a bit tired the next day. I would like to meet my friends more regularly and do feel I’m a bit more of a hermit since lockdown, but it just took me a bit longer to readjust to everything opening back up,” she says.

On the other hand, Lisa says that her increased alcohol intake is a concern. “I do worry about how nonchalant I am about drinking now,” she shares, “but I assure myself that because I am aware of it, it’s not really a problem.

“I have started buying other drink treats for myself to try, and I am trying to placate myself with those so I don’t drink every day. But if I am being completely honest, I do miss my daily fix of alcohol, which does worry me.”

If you are dealing with concerns about alcohol, visit Drinkaware for advice and support.

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Images: Getty

*Some names have been changed