As we inch closer to the festive season, many families are planning Christmas bubbles with elderly relatives. Many have missed out on special occasions and milestones this year and it has been a devastatingly isolating time for grandparents especially. With a vaccine so close, we must continue to protect our loved ones and particularly those who are most vulnerable.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott is advising the nation to look closely at their alcohol intake this Christmas. He comments: ‘Alcohol and holding social distancing boundaries just do not mix, and this year more than any other year it’s time to take the foot of the alcohol pedal and go very slow indeed.’
We know that older adults are at greater risk of requiring hospitalisation or dying if diagnosed with COVID-19 and even with all the guidelines in place, nobody is 100% protected from the virus. Although we can mix households we are still in the grip of a deadly pandemic and excessive Christmas cheer will lead to people drinking heavily and forgetting about social distancing. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is never good and an especially bad idea during the coronavirus pandemic.
Noel continues: ‘My advice would be, drink infrequently rather than regularly and don’t drink to get drunk, have drink-free days over the Christmas period, get a proper measure for your drinks and pour yourself small measures, use low and no alcohol beers, wines and spirits.”
Binge drinking as Christmas
In general, at Christmas, we advise caution in alcohol use because of the risks associated with binge drinking. This year the message has to be stronger, there is strong evidence that drinking increased significantly at home during the pandemic and drinking rates have soared and not dropped. Many who increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic have reported problems with sleeping, mood regulation, concentration issues, productivity issues and relationship problems.
Are you abusing alcohol consumption?
The single biggest thing anyone can do to reduce the harm to themselves and others from their drinking is to get real about the amount you are putting away. Study after study shows all drinkers cannot accurately estimate how much they drink and consistently under-report, which in itself is not strange as alcohol changes our perception of reality. It’s a good idea if worried to record your drinking using a unit calculator or drinks tracker, the NHS have a very helpful app called Drinkaware. When you have accurate records of consumption then ensure you stay below the binge drinking levels when you drink and stay below the weekly recommendation of 21 units.
Often the key to managing drinking is having better mental health hygiene and better mental health fitness. This is because problematic drinking most often starts off as an attempt to manage some form of psychological distress, something many have suffered at the hands of the pandemic. Following good mental health practice involves a range of easy practices such as: good sleep hygiene, going to bed and getting up at a reasonable time, cutting out late-night stimulants to aid sleep, stopping drinking alcohol which interrupts sleep; eating healthily and hydrating, regular exercise, talking to people who care about you regularly and talking about how you are feeling, organising fun activities, learning to meditate especially using mindfulness, learning basic CBT tools such as challenging negative thoughts and spotting unhelpful thinking styles.
Ask for help this Christmas
It’s essential that we are armed with information around alcohol use and abuse and take individual steps to ensure we are safe and don’t put our loved ones in further danger. If you are worried about your drinking or that of someone you love, don’t wait till you get help. Catching these sorts of problems in the early stage vastly increases positive outcomes. There are brief interventions for alcohol use problems that can very effectively stop the problem growing into something unmanageable.
Be sensible and make the right choices to make this a Covid safe Christmas. Keep in mind that anytime you gather with people you do not live with, the risk of infection increases for everyone, add excessive alcohol consumption into this and social distancing boundaries become threatened. Keep grandparents safe this Christmas, manage your alcohol limits and maintain social distancing.