The Covid-19 pandemic plunged many of us into a new world of uncertainty this year. The “new normal” – staying in, working from home or not working at all, not seeing friends or family outside of video calls – may be doing vital work to keep people alive and away from the virus, but it has also created a real learning curve.
True alcoholism is a form of disease, and this needs to be understood above all else. There is a clearly defined difference between someone who enjoys a night out and sometimes has one too many, and an alcoholic. It is possible you’ve developed an alcohol dependence, however, if drinking alcohol is the only way for you to relax or have a good time.
While lockdown hasn’t instantly turned the nation into alcoholics suffering from symptoms of a physical dependency, has caused many of us to slightly increase our alcohol intake. And in more extreme cases, the physiological symptoms of alcohol dependence may have begun sneaking in.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcoholism can affect both mental and physical health, and is a progressive and compulsive disease. It’s likely you’re experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you get any of the symptoms discussed in this article after a heavy drinking session. Being reliant on alcohol is not something the sufferer will have chosen, and those with the condition have more to deal with than simply learning to “say no”.
- in the most serious cases, the sufferer might have a fit (seizure)
- “the shakes” (tremors in the hands)
As day-to-day life has already been massively altered for many people, it can be easy for these changes to happen without detection. While we may not have noticed our growing intake, the sales figures create an unavoidable image of our new habits: alcohol sales in the UK increased by 22% when lockdown came in this year, while sales in the US have risen by 55%.
These major jumps may reflect the major changes that have taken place over the last few months. It’s not just drinking alone, though. Online happy hours, where one can enjoy a chat over a pint from the comfort and safety of their own homes, have grown in popularity.
Some groups have even organised their own “pub quizzes”, where the lack of prizes may lead to greater emphasis on the “pub”, rather than the “quiz”.
But is all of this drinking really necessary?
Ultimately, no, but there is a good reason that so many people have started drinking more in recent months. We have no idea when we can expect an end to this period of collective anxiety, and new deaths and coronavirus cases are still being reported across the globe. Many of us are separated from our loved ones, and those of us working in frontline jobs like healthcare services and supermarkets are under a massive amount of pressure. The feeling of worry, dread and frustration is everywhere. The increased sales of alcohol are more than just stocking up for a rainy day. 70% of households buying more alcohol than usual have also been drinking more than usual.
Many people have lost their jobs or are working in new and unsafe ways, working from home, working while home-schooling children, living alone or dealing with losing a loved one. It comes as no surprise that these people will chase the short-lived soothing effect of alcohol when under this sort of stress in an attempt to decompress. Unfortunately, both psychologically and physically, alcohol as a coping mechanism does more harm than good.
When someone reaches for a bottle in a time of anxiety, they may well feel better and more relaxed as a result of the drink. They may experience euphoria (or at least some distraction from dysphoria) as their blood alcohol level rises, and the world will appear to slow down as their mind relaxes.
This is perhaps why drinking during major crises and traumatic events is so common. This may also be why (according to research carried out by FARE in Australia) about a third of those whose alcohol purchasing has increased are now concerned about their drinking or that of someone they care about. Remember: Alcoholism is a condition that can destroy families, friendships and careers, or cause them to be put on hold.
The relief that alcohol brings is only temporary. The body identifies alcohol as a toxin and begins to purge the alcohol within 20-30 minutes, which can leave us feeling even more stressed and uncomfortable than we were to begin with. These issues are, of course, even more pronounced if you are pregnant, have existing health conditions or are underage.
Alcohol and the Brain
The complex world of neuroscience can explain the good and bad sides of alcohol consumption. An excitatory neurotransmitter (one that increases neuron activity), glutamate, and an inhibitory one (one that decreases activity), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), are affected when we consume alcohol. We experience a reduction in the activity of neurons as the alcohol increases the production of GABA and decreases the production of glutamate. This makes us feel uncoordinated and woozy was our bodies and brains slow down.
For more information about alcoholism, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Alcoholism which takes you step by step through diagnosing the problem; understanding its physical effects; breaking behavioural patterns and getting treatment. Support for children with alcoholic parents and guidance for those living with an alcoholic is also included. Need2Know also have some great books about food for health, bipolar disorder and cannabis. Whether you’re newly diagnosed, caring for a friend or just curious, we have all the information you need!
- Social Science & Medicine: How economic crises affect alcohol consumption and alcohol-related health problems: A realist systematic review
- Effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet program compared to a low-fat diet on fasting lipoprotein subclasses.
- Society for the Study of Addiction: Natural disasters and alcohol consumption in a cultural context: the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Japan
- The effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet on mood, hunger, and other self-reported symptoms.
- Psychology of Addictive Behaviours: The great recession and employee alcohol use: A U.S. population study.
- The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)
- The Scripps Research Institute: The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain