Doctor Kirsten Morley, a professor in addiction medicine at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, says that a cocktail of factors are behind the increase in alcohol consumption.
“COVID-19 presents a challenge in Australia for alcohol problems: already high rates of alcohol use, economic hardship and social isolation,” she told Women’s Health. “Loss of employment, the lack of schedule, and reduced social contact can trigger increased alcohol consumption.”
The research also found that 27 per cent of Australians surveyed are now drinking alcohol to cope with anxiety and stress.
“For some, feelings of depression and anxiety can be alleviated in the short term by alcohol consumption but are exacerbated in the long term,” Morley says.
However, one third of people who had upped their drinking admitted they were concerned about their habits or someone in their household’s.
“Good news is that the majority of people who worry about their drinking CAN change it,” Morley says.
If that sounds like you, here are her expert tips for reducing your alcohol consumption.
1. Record how much you’re drinking
Your first step is to count how many standard drinks you’re consuming and compare it to the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines. Keep a drinking diary or mark how much and how often you’re drinking on a calendar to keep track over a week or so. You might be surprised to see how quickly it adds up.
“The new (draft) guidelines include drinking no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four on any one day,” Morley says. “Even if you do fall within these guidelines and are not happy with your drinking currently then it is a good sign to reduce consumption.”
2. List the pros and cons of your consumption
“Lay out the benefits and costs of drinking for you individually,” Morley says. “For example, this could be harms associated with chronic and heavy alcohol consumption including exacerbation of depression/anxiety, sleep problems, and also cancers (breast, throat, mouth) plus suppression of the immune system.”
Aside from impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing, take note of how it affects your work and relationships.
3. Set some goals
Create a goal to limit your drinking by a tangible amount.
“Try to fit your goals to be aligned within the guidelines,” she says. “For example, four nights off per week.”
4. Adopt practical strategies
There are a number of ways you can help reduce and replace your drinking with healthier options.
“Put in place some practical strategies such as switching to low-alcohol beer, alternating alcohol with non-alcoholic drinks (water etc), reducing the drink size, eating during the drinking session,” Morely advises.
5. Find new ways to unwind
If a glass of red or two (or more) might be your go-to method for de-stressing, but there are far more effective relaxation techniques.
“Try to unwind in different ways, plan for exercise or yoga on a night you have scheduled an abstinent night,” Morley says.
6. Identify high risk situations
“Perhaps there is increased drinking after an argument or at the end of a long day,” Morley says. “If you can sense that coming, review previous strategies.”
7. Seek help
If these strategies don’t work, try signing up to an online treatment program such as SMART recovery and Healthier Drinking Choices.
“Or call your GP who can link you in with appropriate treatment including online tele-counselling or pharmacotherapy if required,” she says. “If you are drinking very heavily/dependent on alcohol and want to stop quickly, please call your GP.”
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