Pandemic fuels alcohol consumption as over 50% of Irish people report drinking to ‘cheer up’

Greg Mulhall

Reporter:

Greg Mulhall

Email:

greg.mulhall@iconicnews.ie

Pandemic fuels alcohol consumption as over 50% of Irish people report drinking to ‘cheer up’

Over half of Irish people are drinking to 'cheer up' when stressed or in a bad mood, according to a new report by Drinkaware.

Drinkaware, the national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse in Ireland,  has published a new health promotion booklet, Alcohol and Your Mental Health, designed to help adults recognise the importance of developing healthy ways to cope without alcohol. 

The charity is urging people to mind their mental health this week during Alcohol Awareness Week, running from November 16th-22nd. 

Figures from Drinkaware’s 2020 Alcohol & Covid-19 Barometer revealed how the pandemic is driving an increase in drinking alcohol to cope, when compared to 2018 levels as published in the Drinkaware Index 2019.

The survey was conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes during lockdown in April 2020 with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults in Ireland. 

54% of respondents reported drinking ‘to cheer you up when you are in a bad mood or stressed’, compared 42% in 2018, representing a  12% increase in the period. A further 34% reported drinking ‘because it helps when you feel depressed or anxious’, compared to 29% in 2018.

New questions asked in the 2020 edition reveal the main motivations for alcohol use during Covid-19, the majority of which are linked to mental health and coping.

23% reported using alcohol during Covid-19 ‘because you feel lonely’, 28% said ‘to help with sleep’, and 32% answered ‘to help manage social distancing and isolation’.

Sheena Horgan, Drinkaware CEO, commented: “With all the uncertainty at the moment it can be hard to look to the future. But that is exactly what we must do. For many, alcohol use is rising, as people turn to alcohol to help them feel better. At Drinkaware, we want to empower adults in Ireland to develop healthy ways to cope that don’t involve alcohol. This is why we developed our new Alcohol and Your Mental Health booklet. 

“Alcohol is a depressant that disrupts how the brain functions. It affects our thoughts, feelings and actions. Drinking alcohol regularly, and particularly excessive or binge drinking, can worsen and contribute to the development of new mental health problems including depression and anxiety. Rather than negating anxiety or stress, alcohol can exacerbate both.

“The economic, social, educational and cultural impacts of the pandemic may not be felt for many years to come. And our data on the pre- and mid-Covid patterns of behaviour and attitudes to alcohol is particularly important as we enter new phases of the pandemic. We simply cannot afford to have even more people using alcohol as a coping mechanism. And through collective action, we need to address the long-term impact of alcohol use during Covid-19 on the mental health of individuals, communities and the nation. 

“At Drinkaware through our website, social channels, resources and webinars, we encourage people to explore healthier ways to cope that don’t involve alcohol. Practising relaxation techniques like mindfulness or meditation for even just a few minutes can have a positive impact on how you are feeling. If you catch yourself reaching for a glass of wine of bottle of beer to deal with stress, make a change. Have plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives in the house. It could also be helpful to remove alcohol from your shopping list for now. If it’s not in the house, you can’t drink it. 

“Above all, keep talking. Talking about your problems or sharing how you are feeling with someone you trust is vital. This can have a positive impact on your mood and ability to deal with problems. 

“There are excellent supports available including the Pieta House 24-hour helpline (1800 247 247), 50808 text service (Text HELLO to 50808) and the HSE’s new Minding your Wellbeing programme.”