The Covid-19 pandemic has brought substantial change and disruption to many in our country and around the world. We have felt loss, isolation, and frustration all around.
For some, this pressure has had a significant impact on individual drinking levels and residents in Northumberland are now being encouraged to make positive changes to their sometimes quite unhealthy drinking habits that some may have picked up during the Covid lockdown.
In a recent report from Balance, worrying behaviours such as drinking more days a week than usual, having a first alcoholic drink earlier in the day, drinking alone, and drinking to cope were highlighted. To say this is a very concerning trend is an understatement. Increasing levels of alcoholism will and do put pressure on NHS services and have a profound and severe impact on the health and mental wellbeing of individuals that drink frequently.
In Northumberland, an escalation has been seen in high-risk drinking with an associated increase in the number of glass bottles being recycled throughout lockdown - processing has soared by more than one fifth during 2020/21 although some of this will reflect the closure of pubs and restaurants during lockdown and a general shift to drinking from home.
Figures on domestic glass collections were revealed as part of a recent report at the council’s Communities and Place Overview and Scrutiny Committee on a kerbside pick-up trial for 1,000 households in Morpeth, Bedlington, Hexham, Alnwick and Lesbury.
Alcohol is linked to heart disease, stroke and seven types of cancer, while deaths linked to liver disease have risen 400% in 40 years. Alcohol can also contribute to the worsening of pre-existing symptoms of many mental health problems, especially low mood and anxiety.
What is also worth mentioning is that heavy drinking can often lead to individuals becoming more violent and aggressive towards others, and a rise in heavy drinking not just in Northumberland but the UK as a whole could lead to increased reports of anti-social behaviour and a rise in domestic violence too.
It is key to remember that your drinking habits don’t just affect you, but the people around you too
Liz Morgan, Director of Public Health at Northumberland County Council, said: “We know from recent research, that 4.5 million adults in England are now classed as high-risk drinkers - a 40% increase when compared to pre-pandemic rates.
"Compared to the rest of England, Northumberland has higher rates of hospital admissions due to alcohol related problems and our rates are continuing to increase. These figures are very alarming and the increase during the pandemic is a worrying trend.
"Whether or not you've felt your drinking creeping up during lockdown, now is a really important time to be looking after ourselves and our families, mentally and physically, and that includes trying to stick within the limits of 14 units per week and making positive changes to your drinking habits.”
There's a wide range of help available for people who want to reduce their alcohol consumption and some tips include:
Take more drink-free days, and when drinking alternate with a non-alcoholic drink. Know your alcohol units – current recommendation is not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread across three days or more. That's around 6 medium (175ml) glasses of wine, or six pints of 4% beer. Home poured measures can often be larger than standard measures used in pubs. Visit http://reducemyrisk.tv to learn more. Talk to others about your health goals before meeting up. If you've reduced your drinking during lockdown, letting friends and family know before you get together can help to on track. Download the Try Dry app by Alcohol Change UK, the charity behind Dry January, which allows participants to track the units, calories and money saved by cutting down or cutting out booze for a month. It really is a big help when it comes to tracking your alcohol consumption!
Cllr Wendy Pattison, cabinet member for adult wellbeing said: “Since the Covid pandemic began, it’s understandable that people have looked for ways to cope with the changes to their daily lives. However, some of these coping methods can harmful and lead to habits forming that can affect us long-term.
“The council is encouraging everyone to think about healthier habits when it comes to drinking such as downloading the NHS Drink Free Days App, choose drinks that are lower in alcohol or set aside alcohol until after your evening meal.
“Many people who reduce their alcohol intake notice benefits, such as losing weight, being more energetic, feeling less tired, as well as saving money. We would encourage everyone to consider making positive changes to their drinking habits.”
There are many benefits from healthier drinking habits, even those of us that don’t drink often. Cutting down on alcohol consumption can greatly improve your and present and future health.
Balance is asking Northumberland residents to join it in tackling this problem before it is too late, and making sure you encourage others to join you in doing so.If you or someone you know is concerned about their alcohol consumption, there is lots of help and advice available on the council and NHS websites:
The Northumberland Recovery Partnership is also available to support anyone in Northumberland, 18 years old or over, who is experiencing problems with drugs or alcohol.