Man was drinking every night and lockdown was ‘wake up call’

Many people have found themselves drinking more alcohol this year for many different reasons.

In fact, research from Alcohol Change UK found around 8.6 million people across the country increased their drinking during the first national lockdown.

One of those people was Mark – a 25-year-old who lives in Clifton and works in retail, having a background in the creative industries.

Mark (not his real name) started drinking at university as a social thing to do, while smoking cannabis on the days he wasn’t going out.

However, he said smoking cannabis started to make him anxious so he replaced it with alcohol, leading to an increased alcohol consumption – not only with friends but also when on his own to unwind and relax.

Mark said drinking became a habitual thing to do, having a few drinks when he wanted to chill out.

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But then earlier this year, he became depressed and was furloughed during the first lockdown, which he said led to him drinking heavily every day.

“It was a bad habit – I wouldn’t think about it and just do it,” he added. “When I went back to work, I thought ‘I have to sort this out’.

“I would never drink before 8pm at night but my body clock was all over the place – going to bed at 4am and waking up at noon.

“I was trying to be productive during the day and then wanted to relax at night.

“I have always been a night owl – my whole lifestyle is quite suited to drinking.”

Mark said he was drinking four of five cans of beer a night, together with a couple of spirits with mixers.

At first he drank beers, but then he said that wasn’t enough so he started to drink spirits – making sure there were always some in the house.

“It is all about getting that buzz, but slowly I needed to drink more to get that level of buzz,” he continued.

“I feel lockdown was good for me in the sense that I drank a lot but it was what I needed to step out of it.

“Lockdown gave me a break, it was a wake up call. I got to analyse my behaviour.

“Drinking became a habitual thing to do – chilling out for me required drinking alcohol.”

Mark said that, during the first lockdown, he found himself stocking up on alcohol and then he would drink it in half the time he had set out to do so.

Some facts around alcohol – and some tips

Developing Health & Independence (DHI) is a local charity which provides drug and alcohol services and has been established for 20 years.

They receive between 250 and 400 referrals for people requesting their services each month in Bristol – with 50% of those referrals being for alcohol – and approximately a third of their clients are female.

DHI has released their top tips for people to manage their use of alcohol during lockdown.

  • Do other things to relieve stress or isolation like exercise, playing games or calling friends and family.

  • Keep track of your drinking and make sure to have at least a few drink-free days each week (current UK guidelines are to drink no more than 14 units per week: about 6 pints of average strength beer or 7 medium glasses of wine).

  • Try alcohol free drinks.

  • If you are using alcohol to fill time, start that project you have always been meaning to do or try learning a new skill.

  • Don’t use alcohol to help you sleep. If you are struggling to sleep make sure you get on a regular schedule and try relaxation exercises, reading or listening to radio or podcasts. Try to avoid screens for an hour before you go to bed.

  • Alternate your drinks. Have a soft drink between each alcoholic drink.

  • Put down your drink between sips. If it is in your hand, you will drink it more quickly.

He has now learnt he is not the kind of person who can just have alcohol around in the house.

“During the second lockdown, I decided I would just go to the shop when I needed it rather than trying to stock up,” he continued. “This second lockdown hasn’t been as intense.”

Mark – who works in retail – said having an unfulfilling job made him more prone to drinking, adding he would drink four pints every night without thinking.

He added he has now gone back to smoking cannabis, which has allowed him to reduce his alcohol consumption and he is no longer drinking every day.

Mark – who lives with his girlfriend – said his alcohol consumption had not impacted on his relationship as she has not known any different, adding it had always been there.

He added his girlfriend doesn’t drink at all, which makes it easier for him to control how much he has.

“She wanted me to get help, but it has never put a strain on our relationship – it doesn’t get in the way of us having a good time,” Mark said. “I am fully functioning – you can get through most aspects of life being a bit drunk.”

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Mark said he decided to get help with his drinking as it had been going on for such a long time and it was impacting on his life, putting on weight and losing his motivation and creativity.

“Lockdown is when I realised how negatively it [alcohol] was impacting me,” he continued. “I was always feeling tired, never felt fresh at all.

“I was drinking a lot during lockdown but for the first time I didn’t have the excuse of work.

“I had a hangover every day and I was getting some clarity of the impact it was having on me – I made the link I needed a sober mind to be creative.

“It was getting a bit abnormal, drinking just out of habit.”

Mark said he used to think getting high or drinking was the only way to unwind, adding he started smoking cannabis as a teenager when he was about 15.

‘I didn’t want the feeling to end’

At that point he was not smoking on his own but as a social thing to do.

Mark said he started smoking cannabis every day when he was at university, as well as taking other recreational illegal drugs such as MDMA or acid in his first year.

“It was a lot of fun, but I always ended up doing too much,” he added. “For me, it is always about taking it that step further.

“I never wanted to come down, I didn’t want the feeling to end.”

Mark said that, on one occasion, he had a panic attack while being on acid, thinking he was having a heart attack. This led to him developing anxiety around his heart racing, being unable to smoke cannabis because it would speed his heart beat.

He then started drinking more frequently during his second year at university, Mark added, but thought  was more destructive for him as he found himself carrying on drinking the day after a night out, for instance.

“Drinking became my way of socialising without smoking weed,” he continued. “I was used to being high every day and the only thing I could do without making me anxious was to drink.

“I started to put on a lot of weight.

“University was hard because drinking is such a part of the culture there.”

He said he didn’t think of his drinking as a coping mechanism but as a way of relaxing, but that in fact it was probably an unconscious way of managing his anxiety and depression.

He added he found it hard to relax when being sober, with drugs providing him a way of escaping his mind.

Mark said he struggles with intrusive thoughts and drugs gave him a feeling of a clear mind – with this being one of the key attracting factors for him.

Accessing support from Bristol organisation Developing Health & Independence (DHI), Mark said he doesn’t see himself as an alcoholic and that his aim is to be someone who drinks to socialise rather than on his own.

man was drinking every night and lockdown was wake up call - Man was drinking every night and lockdown was 'wake up call'

man was drinking every night and lockdown was wake up call - Man was drinking every night and lockdown was 'wake up call'

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“I want it [his drinking] to be more normal, a casual thing to do with people,” he continued. “I have always been fully functioning – I was able to finish my studies and go to work every day.

“My grades [at university] were what they were because I was lazy and I could have done more work, not because I was drinking.

“I have always been able to drink and then go to work at 8am in the morning.”

Mark said DHI had been really good for him, giving him the motivation to cut back on his alcohol consumption, adding he had found talking about it had been really beneficial.

Are you concerned about your alcohol consumption? You can get help here.

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