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With reports of some people drinking more during lockdown, GP, Dr Sarah Louden, shares her advice about how to look after yourself and your loved ones – and where our relationship with alcohol fits into that.

The last few months with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic have been a worrying time for everyone. It’s a time when we have all been very conscious of keeping ourselves and our families healthy and safe.

I’ve had lots of patients ask me about ways to look after their health at this time. There are obviously lots of incredibly important things such as social distancing and washing our hands. But lifestyle is also very important for both our physical and our mental health. It might be a good time to consider what sort of relationship we have with alcohol and how this affects our health.

For many people lockdown has been a big life change and a very stressful time for some. Research shows that some people in the North East have ended up drinking less since lockdown which is great news. Others have reported having initial “blips” before setting healthier goals. But I am concerned that some people – and especially those who were already drinking heavily - are drinking more and using alcohol as a coping mechanism, which is never a good thing.

You can see how it has been easier for people’s drinking to start to creep up, especially with people working from home and perhaps socialising online. Without realising, drinking can become an everyday thing and we are seeing some people are now drinking earlier in the day and on days when they did not previously drink. Before you know it your drinking can get out of hand.

By reducing what we drink we can make ourselves fitter, healthier and feel better. Alcohol can also affect our immune system and it reduces our ability to cope with infectious diseases. So if you do drink, keep it to a minimum to stay healthy.

You can also help keep your weight under control by reducing the amount you drink. A large glass of wine has about the same calories as a regular Mars Bar and you would need to run for half an hour to work off a couple of 330ml bottles of beer.

Alcohol is also linked to anxiety and depression and drinking can make us feel more tired and sluggish, less productive and have a negative impact on our mental health. If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, try to reduce your alcohol consumption as it will help you feel better, feel more alert, less stressed, less tired and enable you to sleep better.

If drinking is becoming a daily habit, there are plenty of ways to cut down. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to stay within the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk drinking limits of no more than 14 units a week - that’s no more than six pints of regular strength beer or lager, six standard glasses of wine, or seven double measures of spirits a week. Remember that home poured drinks can be bigger than the ones you get in the pub.

My advice is if you do drink, have plenty of drink free days and don’t stockpile alcohol at home as this will help reduce your alcohol consumption.

Try to find ways to relax and enjoy yourself without alcohol. But if you do find alcohol creeping up on you there are lots of tips and tools to help you cut down as well, such as the Try Dry App which can help you track your drinking, and the National Alcohol Helpline.

Your GP will also be able to talk to you about alcohol and this could be by phone or video consultation if you’re worried about going to the practice. They can let you know about local services that can help.

So if you are worried about your drinking and that it might be getting out of hand please seek help as there are people and services out there who are able to help you if you want to reduce your drinking.

We know that alcohol can increase your risk of a range of serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. Stories about it having a protective effect are overstated. Coronavirus has taught us how precious life, our health and our families are. I hope more of us will reconsider what we want our relationship with alcohol to be like once we emerge from this crisis.

GP Dr Sarah Louden is one of the Cancer GP leads for Newcastle Gateshead CCG

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