Throughout the pre-pandemic years, the UK was already struggling to contain its long-standing public health crisis — alcohol addiction. When Covid-19 emerged, public health officials worried that excessive drinking would worsen over the course of the pandemic — and it did.
Paul Spanjar, who operates a treatment facility in Dorset, believes current conditions give rise to further problems around drinking habits. He said that “In times of uncertainty, fear, and isolation, people lean on alcohol as a coping mechanism because it numbs some of those negative feelings. My concern is that the pandemic has led to another crisis here in the UK, with rising inflation and the cost of living. These are extremely scary times for many, and I fear alcohol will be used as an escape.”
A peek into government findings reveals the pandemic’s influence on alcohol misuse across the nation. Perhaps more troubling is that as the impacts of the pandemic drag on, so will the spike in alcohol addiction cases and alcoholism rates may continue to rise.
COVID-19 Pandemic Increased Nation-Wide Alcohol Use
When the novel Covid-19 took hold in the UK, life, for many, took a turn for the worse. People had to endure months of disrupted routines, long hours of loneliness, and boredom when stay-at-home orders were put in place. Several lost their jobs since most businesses had to let go of employees to remain financially afloat.
As schools shut down indefinitely, households had to balance homeschooling their kids and handling remote work responsibilities. Many struggled to come to terms with the fact that they couldn’t carry on with their pre-pandemic life plans.
The Coronavirus crisis brought almost everything to a standstill and created a new level of stress that most people hadn’t dealt with before. As a result, many shifted to alcohol and drank beyond healthy limits to dampen their high-stress levels.
The extent of alcohol use during the pandemic is alarming, as evident through these recently published results:
- From March 2020 to March 2021, the number of heavy drinkers shot up by 58.6%, suggesting that people who were casual drinkers before the pandemic increased their drinking habits to dangerous levels.
- Overall, the rates of alcohol consumption in the UK went up by roughly 10% during the Coronavirus pandemic. Compared to other European countries, the UK had the highest increase in drinking habits
Isolation, Anxiety Disorders, And Problem Drinking
As with every other addiction, alcohol dependence thrives in secrecy. Lockdowns threw people in isolation and interrupted human interactions, creating the perfect environment for people to resort to multiple servings of alcohol while indoors. Unfortunately, many ended up victims of uncontrolled drinking.
Those living with an anxiety disorder had it rough. The pandemic brought along overwhelming tension and fear that aggravated anxiety symptoms. Engagement with mental health services was heavily disrupted as restrictions were enforced, and it became very tempting for those struggling with an anxiety disorder to reach for alcohol to self-medicate.
While drinking temporarily relieves anxiety symptoms, it only worsens the situation. Once the soothing effects of alcohol fade away, pre-existing symptoms resurface with more intensity, and new symptoms can develop.
People who drank to ease their symptoms felt the need to drink more and more to chase the short-lived relief from the discomforting symptoms. Sadly, many got caught up in the cycle of alcohol misuse alongside worsening anxiety symptoms.
Easy Access To Alcohol During Lockdowns
Even though alcohol purchases in entertainment joints, restaurants, and other liquor stores took a dip because of the frequent shutdowns, people still found a way to drink. During the pandemic year, online alcohol sales in the UK exploded.
In fact, research shows the number of alcoholic beverages sold between 2020 to 2021 was a staggering 24.4% increase from the previous pre-pandemic year (2019 to 2020).
These findings show that many took advantage of home deliveries to stock their preferred alcoholic drinks as soon as the shutdown orders began. Even more worrying is that alcohol advertisements on social media soared just when most people had turned into active social media users to kill time while indoors. Much of these advertisements glorified drinking as a way of coping with boredom.
As stockpiling practices became a trend, heavy drinking became quite common. For those who were already struggling with mild-to-moderate alcohol dependency, the urge to overindulge in alcohol became more magnified during this period.
Alcoholism Likely To Soar In The Post-Pandemic Future
The risky drinking habits observed during the pandemic were also witnessed in the historic economic crisis to hit the UK — the 2008 recession. It goes without saying that unemployment, job loss worries, and economic hardships are significant triggers of alcohol misuse.
Although the pandemic is no longer an acute emergency as it was when it initially broke out, its economic consequences are still here with us. Many people across the nation today are experiencing the harsh economic effects of Covid-19.
There’s a greater likelihood of an uptick in stress drinking as people try to muddle through the difficult economic times. As we move forward into the future, what will follow is increasing cases of alcohol addiction.
Tackling The Alcohol Addiction Epidemic
The scope of the drinking problem informed the government’s decision to channel adequate funding towards increasing addiction treatment opportunities across the nation. This is a step in the right direction, as it means that more people struggling with alcohol dependence will have an opportunity to access immediate speciality alcohol treatment services.
There’s a need for the state to act fast in implementing tougher alcohol advertisement restrictions and effective alcohol pricing strategies to curb the rising trends in alcohol consumption. In addition, creating more public awareness of the full range of alcohol-related harms will encourage more people to shift their drinking behaviours to healthy levels. The pandemic also served as a reminder of the need to increase public education on healthier coping alternatives for stressful situations.
Alcohol Consumption In The UK: A Great Danger
The Covid-19 crisis created a triggering environment for people to drink their worries and stress away. People who weren’t alcohol users before the pandemic turned to alcohol for the first time, while recreational users became chronic drinkers. The pandemic’s impacts still linger, posing a risk of persistent unhealthy drinking habits. Without proper interventions, the number of people battling alcohol dependence will go up.