Stuck at home during lockdown, we needed something to mark the transition from day to night and the “locktail” time did just that. Whether your chosen drink was an Old Fashioned, a glass of Merlot, a beer, or a classic G&T, it was all too easy—with no commute to get up the next day—to let that sunset drift in twos, threes, or more. And it seems to have been a hard habit for many of us to break.
Earlier this month, Professor Julia Sinclair, chair of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, warned that these changes in drinking habits could mean millions of people are at risk of what she called ‘silent damage’ from dangerous levels of alcohol consumption.
February 2020 figures suggest that around 12.4% of the population were drinking at a level indicating increasing or higher risk. By October 2021, the number of people drinking at this level had risen to around 18%.
And experts don’t expect that to change anytime soon. “The best-case scenario would be for everyone to start drinking again like they did in 2019 – but we’ve ruled that out because people aren’t going to,” Prof Sinclair says. “Our most realistic scenario is that high-risk drinkers will likely return over the next five years to where they were.”
Dr Parker says we are now at a point where we can clearly see the impact the lockdown and the pandemic have had on drinking habits – and how that has translated into health issues. “We predicted there would be an increase in harmful alcohol use during the first lockdown,” he says. “But in fact, we found that most people drank as much or less. We attributed this to the fact that the majority of harmful alcohol use tends to occur in social situations, but when pubs and clubs are closed it decreases. »
However, they found that about one in five people drank more, and generally these people would be classified as those who had characteristics that put them at greater risk for this. “In common parlance, you might call this an addictive personality,” says Dr. Parker. “But we could also be talking about someone who has issues with impulse control or decision-making.
“People with these types of issues are often more likely to be susceptible to pandemic stress, whether it’s the existential threat of experiencing a global pandemic, job insecurity, Financial insecurity, family problems – all of this stress can lead to increased alcohol consumption. Complicating the situation, the fact that the lockdown meant that social support networks – be it friends, family or professionals, which we know is essential when it comes to It’s about addiction issues – weren’t as accessible. The result was a perfect storm for those sensitive people.
And even though these people were a minority, Dr. Parker points out that they had a significant impact in the hospital setting. “Talking to colleagues in hospitals, looking at Office for National Statistics figures and figures from other observers, we can see that the number of alcohol-related deaths and the number of people with disease alcohol-related liver problems and other alcohol-related problems, is the highest on record.
The combination of this data and Professor Sinclair’s stern warnings paints a grim picture of the impact the pandemic has had on our drinking culture and the ongoing repercussions we will see in the years to come.