Being more alcohol aware during social distancing

7th April 2020

With the government calling on people to stay at home as much as possible to help stop the spread of coronavirus, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is asking people who drink alcohol to think about their drinking habits during this period.

Michael Owen, Regional Lead for Drugs and Alcohol at the PHA, said: “Several countries are reporting an increase in home drinking and it’s likely that we are no different. Drinking too much alcohol can seriously damage your health and have a negative impact on those around you. Alcohol is an extremely powerful drug and we need to be careful of how we use it.“At this time, when the health service is under increasing pressures because of COVID-19, we need to act responsibly and not add to that burden. Drinking too much can cause accidents around the home, which might need hospital treatment. Help protect the health service and yourself by doing all you can to avoid unnecessary problems with alcohol.

“When you go to the supermarket you can see empty alcohol shelves. Please don’t stockpile alcohol in your home. Plan your weekly shop and only buy as much as you have decided you want to drink during the week. If you stockpile the temptation is there to drink more than you normally would, especially if you’re at home for the vast majority of your time.

“The UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines say that for both men and women to keep the risks from alcohol low, it’s safest to drink no more than 14 units a week. So get to know your units. For example, a small glass of wine can be just over two units, and a measure of spirits can be around one and a half units. If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

“In a pub or restaurant it can be easier to keep track of how much we’re drinking as accurate measures are used, but as these businesses are now closed, people are more likely to ‘free pour’ at home and fill the glass a bit more than we might get from a measure when we’re out, so the number of units is greater than we think.

“Think about how much you are pouring and try your best to measure out your alcohol, enabling you to keep better track of your units.

“It’s also very important to have several alcohol-free days during the week. Plan these out too so you can keep check on them.  Remember, being intoxicated could be putting you and others at risk as you are less likely to be coherent and able to follow the social distancing and hygiene practices that are required to help protect you from coronavirus.”

“In this time where we’re spending less time in the workplace, and not going out to see friends and family, it can be all too easy to just have a drink on our own at home, and frequently earlier in the day than normal. If you are thinking of drinking at a time you don’t normally, try to recognise this and have an alternative, such just picking up the phone and giving a relative a call to see how they’re doing. If you do reach for a drink, stop to think and try replacing it for a soft drink instead.

“With schools closed for the majority of children, the kids are around the house more and it’s important to keep alcohol out of sight and reach of children. Children also pick up on habits of their parents so try to set a good example and drink responsibly.

“Importantly during this time, alcohol and drug support services are still operating. Many of them offer over-the-phone help so you can still keep to social distancing guidelines. You can find a list of support services in your area at www.drugsandalcoholni.info