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Drinking more because of Covid

drinking alcohol coronavirusThese are worrying times for us all, full of uncertainty and dread. Where will this end, and who might we lose along the way, and what awaits us on the other side? So many unanswerable questions.

Most of us find such uncertainty uncomfortable, and anxiety inducing. So we may look for an escape in alcohol. Many people are drinking more because of covid. This need not be a sign that you’re developing an addiction of course, however, you might well be concerned about your alcohol consumption. Especially as we all need our immune systems to be healthy right now. And alcohol will directly reduce the health of your immune system, so you’re right to be concerned.

On top of the need to escape from worry and anxiety, you’re probably feeling trapped in your own home, perhaps with family members who are also getting ‘cabin fever’ – bored teenagers particularly. This becomes an extra need to escape, to get a holiday at home via alcohol.

What you might need is to get out away from the pressure of home, somewhere you can temporarily be soothed without resorting to drinking more. Nature and open spaces are a perfect choice, so if you have access to that then it would seem the obvious choice. If you’re in a city and such green space is not so easily accessed, then maybe setting aside some time for yourself in the house could work? Agreeing with other family members that you’re each allowed some time in your room when you are NOT to be disturbed.

There are no easy answers here, but at least if your shops and stores are anything like ours right now, there might not be much alcohol on the shelves anyway.

Alcoholic Support for Expats

Help for alcoholic expatsIts difficult enough getting help to deal with your alcohol problem via conventional counselling or therapy. As some of you may have discovered, waiting lists for NHS funded treatment are often many months, and if youre not at crisis level, then you might not even qualify for help at all.

Consider then how difficult it can be to find help for an alcohol problem if youre an expat living abroad. Quite often the only counselling available will not be in your first language, and you really have to be fluent in another language to communicate at a therapuetic level. For some reason expat communities do seem to include plenty of people who drink heavily, so that doesnt make it any easier.

So if youre an expat living overseas, and you need help with drinking too much, what can you do?

Well, thats where we can help. Being able to access a native English speaking therapist or counsellor via an online video App like FaceTime or Skype allows expats to get support wherever they may be. The only limitation here is any time-zone difference, so if youre in Europe or the Middle East, youre fine. In fact in countries with a good mobile signal, you can even have the session on your phone.

Drink Free Days

sober daysPublic Health England are today launching their ‘Drink Free Days’ campaign to encourage people to reduce their alcohol intake. It’s sometimes easier to have occasional sober days than trying to cut down the amount once you’ve started drinking.

Try to make a plan for when your regular sober days are going to be, that way they can be part of your routine. Maybe plan to do something slightly different on those nights instead, something not compatible with drinking.

If you currently drink every day, then start out with an achievable target of 1 or 2 drink free days. If you already have occasional sober days, then try adding a couple more. The point being, you might be more likely to achieve your goals if you don’t make then too ambitious initially. If you drink every day and suddenly expect yourself to stay sober Monday to Friday, you might find that difficult, and hence will feel disappointed in yourself.

There’s an NHS phone App to help you monitor your progress, available here.

An easy way to reduce your alcohol consumption

alcohol consumptionA recent study by researchers at the University of Liverpool has found that smaller serving sizes can reduce the overall amount people drink during a session. This reflects research on food consumption – people will also eat less overall if food is served to them in smaller portions (but they are also allowed 2nd and 3rd courses).

The study discovered that serving drinks in smaller glasses (but still allowing people to have as many drinks as they wanted to) contributed to people drinking less alcohol overall than people served with larger glasses. The effect they recorded was a 32-39% reduction in a real world setting (a pub).

This seems a very simple change that anyone could make – so why not try it?

Start drinking from slightly smaller glasses this week, and see if you notice any difference in how much alcohol you drink overall.


Pharmaceutical treatment of alcoholism ineffective

pills for alcoholic

An in-depth study by the French national institute of health has revealed that of the five drugs commonly prescribed for the treatment of alcohol misuse, none have demonstrated clear effectiveness. The article, published in the journal Addiction, investigated the drugs baclofen, naltrexone, acamprosate, topimarate, and nalmefene.

That’s not to say that they are entirely useless, because for some people they do have an effect, but it is not reliable, and in some cases there are dangerous side effects. Baclofen particularly has been associated with increased deaths in those taking the drug, leading the French medicine safety agency to express their concerns.

But this should come as no surprise; alcohol problems are not caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry which can be rectified by taking a pill. Alcoholism is a complex psychological and behavioural problem, not a simple medical one. However, pharmaceutical companies like to promote the idea that all humanity’s ills can be cured with a tablet. And that model produces the most profits for their shareholders. Psychological treatments (talking therapies) are not as profitable for the industry.

Dry January Support

After the various excesses of the festive season, many people make the decision to dramatically alter their food and alcohol intake for a while. If you’ve decided to have a ‘Dry January’ and abstain from drinking for a month, then it might help to sign up to our support forum to get some encouragement. There are plenty of people who’ve already started.

Here’s the Dry January thread on our forum (which has been running for four years now, so make sure to read the latest posts from this year).

Good Luck with it.

Baclofen for alcohol dependence should be reconsidered

baclofenA recent study, published in the Journal of European Neuropsychopharmacology demonstrates that the drug Baclofen is actually not as effective at treating alcohol dependency as was previously thought.

It had been marketed as the new wonder treatment, but a fully randomised, placebo controlled trial conducted in the Netherlands showed no significant difference between patients who took a high dose (150 mg/day), a low dose (30 mg/day), or those who took a placebo (both groups were also receiving counselling). Relapse rates were effectively the same across all three groups.

The study authors conclude quite rightly that the widespread ‘off-label’ prescription of Baclofen for alcohol dependence should be reconsidered.

Increased death rates from alcohol in women

A study published last week in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found a concerning increase in the number of women in their 30’s and 40’s dying from alcohol-related conditions (in UK cities at least).

This is contrary to the general trend, which has shown no increase in deaths from alcohol for the population as a whole in the period studied (from 1980 to 2011).

Explanations vary for this unusual result for younger women, but many are blaming cultural factors for the acceptability of heavy drinking amongst women recently. Whatever the explanation, policy-makers should perhaps take note that action needs to be taken.

Therapy becoming less stigmatised

counselling-therapyA survey by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has found that talking therapies are becoming more acceptable in UK culture, people are less embarrassed to admit they have had therapy, and more would consider it as an option than they used to.

Thankfully it seems our society is changing into one which acknowledges the difficulties we all face with our mental health, and as such does not stigmatise those who decide to seek help in the form of counselling or therapy.

All we need now is sufficient access to these therapies, because at present (and with cuts in public spending under way) there is just not enough capacity to meet demand. The cheaper option of medication is often suggested by GPs with limited funds, which though effective at dealing with symptoms, does not address the underlying issues.

Further coverage in the Guardian.co.uk

Alcohol makes your heart healthier

alcohol-heart-healthAs if you needed another excuse to have a drink. Now researchers in Spain have conducted a study of 40 000 people and found that those who drank alcohol regularly tended to have a lower risk of a heart attack than those who were teetotal (particularly for men over the age of 40). And the more you drink, the greater the protective effect.

Don’t forget of course that all the other health risks still apply – so you might not have a heart attack, you’ll just get liver cirrhosis instead, or pancreatitis, a stroke perhaps, or you could develop diabetes, or stomach cancer. So don’t take this as an excuse to have a drink after all.

The Independent

Online Psychological Therapy Proven Effective

online-therapyA recent research study published in the Journal of Technology in Human Services has demonstrated the effectiveness of online psychotherapy for mental health problems.

The meta-study reviewed 92 different studies of online counselling or therapy (a total of 9,764 clients), and found no difference in effectiveness from usual face to face therapy.

The studies involved clients with a wide range of mental health problems, including addiction, anxiety and depression.

If you think you might want to give it a try to help with your alcohol problems, get in touch with us here.

Effects of Alcohol on Sleep

effects-alcoholMany of you will say that you need a drink in order to sleep, that alcohol actually helps you sleep better. While it may be true that drinking will get you off to sleep quicker, unfortunately the quality of your sleep will be much worse overall.

Alcohol inhibits the brain from entering REM stage sleep, which is when we do most of our dreaming, and prolongs the initial stage of deeper sleep. So when you wake up, you will probably not have dreamt enough – and dreaming is an essential component of sleeping. That or you wake up early once the alcohol has worn off.

Alcohol also inhibits your kidneys from absorbing water, so you tend to urinate more, and end up dehydrated. This further disrupts the quality of your sleep, and often produces a headache by morning. As such you end up feeling tired and unable to concentrate for the rest of the day. If you drink every evening, then you may be chronically sleep deprived, even though you might sleep all night, the quality of your sleep is not what it should be.

Making the transition to drinking less is often marked by a difficulty in falling asleep however, so you’ll have to readjust to dropping off naturally again. Getting regular, strenuous exercise is a good idea then – if you’re physically tired you’re much more likely to be able to sleep without needing your usual ‘knock-out drops’.

For a deeper exploration of the interactions between sleep, alcohol and Melatonin, have a look at this interesting article over on Sleepyhood.com

Group Support for Alcohol Problems

support-groupAn important factor in solving your problems with alcohol is talking to other people who understand what you’re going through, who won’t judge you for it, and who will genuinely share their experience without just trotting out the old clichés about drinking.

I’m sure you’ve heard them many times from friends or family, like – “oh don’t worry about it, you don’t have a drink first thing in the morning, do you”, or “I don’t understand why you can’t just have a couple like I do” etc.

Of course most people immediately think of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when they think of getting support from a group for their alcohol problems. But unfortunately many people are intimidated by the doctrine of AA, as the 12-step model it follows has certain expectations for you to fit into. Similarly, some people are so uncomfortable and embarrassed about their drinking that they don’t want to admit it face to face with others, even if they are strangers.

alcoholic-helpLuckily there is now the option of communicating online, where the screen can grant you a cloak of anonymity. As such you can join our alcohol support forum – day or night there will always be a wide range of people logged on who can give you feedback, support or advice about your drinking and an idea of how to make some changes. Check it out and if you like what you see, register for an account (free of course).

Dangerous Levels of Drinking

hazardous-drinkingAccording to figures released today by the NHS:

  • 1 in 4 adults are drinking at hazardous levels,
  • 1 in 10 men are on the verge of alcoholism,
  • 1 in 6 women drink at levels sufficient to damage their liver or lead to depression,
  • 1 in 10 men and 1 in 25 women are approaching alcohol dependence (admittedly rather vague terminology).

We have to ask ourselves why people in the UK seem to be developing more problems with alcohol, and what can be done about it. The cost to the health service alone is staggering – presently some £2.7 billion. That’s before we even consider the personal and social costs involved.

What type of Drinker are you?

types-drinkerThe Department of Health has released research where they have identified nine different types of person who drinks alcohol to excess (their definition of excess being double the recommended weekly amount or more).

It might be useful to see if you can recognise which type you are. The types they defined are –

  • Depressed drinker
  • De-stress drinker
  • Re-bonding drinker
  • Conformist drinker
  • Community drinker
  • Boredom drinker
  • Macho drinker
  • Hedonistic drinker
  • Borderline dependent

It’s a fairly comprehensive list, but if you’re not sure which category you might fit into, have a look at the list of criteria for each type of drinker on the BBC

Of course it would seem to suggest that people who drink fall into one type or another, whereas experience would suggest that the same person could be defined under many of the categories, depending on what is going on for them that day.

How to Cure a Hangover

how cure hangoverEveryone has their own little hangover cure don’t they. There must be thousands of them out there, but how many actually work? The truth is different people probably need different things to help them, depending on their individual constitution.

However there are a few reliable cures that seem to work for everyone. One of the main causes of a hangover is dehydration (largely responsible for your headache), so clearly the best thing to prevent or cure them is rehydration – plenty of water or fruit juice (as that often contains anti-oxidants too).

Sugar filled soft drinks like cola are NOT a good idea, because although they’ll make you feel good temporarily by boosting your blood sugar, you’ll very quickly feel even worse again as you suffer from the insulin crash afterwards.

Having said that, caffeine can often help with a headache and get you feeling sharper again, it depends on your preference. Unfortunately most caffeinated drinks are also diuretic, meaning they will dehydrate you even more. Part of your rehydration might perhaps include essential electrolytes too (Calcium, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium etc).

Another cause of hangover is acetaldehyde, the toxic chemical produced when alcohol dehydrogenase breaks down alcohol in the liver. This is what causes the ‘poisoned’ feeling. There are a couple of things which work quite well to mop this up – the first is an amino acid called cysteine, which is found in large quantities in eggs. So that’s breakfast sorted out. You can also buy N-acetyl cysteine as a supplement in health food shops. The second thing which mops up acetaldehyde quite well is probiotics – the healthy bacteria found in yoghurt. However perhaps the best way to take this is in capsule form where it’s far more concentrated. A few of these before bedtime can really help you.

Most alcoholic drinks will leave you with low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) by morning, so its important to get that back up again in a slow, stable way. Which means complex carbohydrates as opposed to simple ones. What I mean is whole grains, like wholemeal bread or muesli, vegetables and fruit (particularly bananas to boost your potassium levels again). Carbs like simple sugars, white pasta or potatoes will not help.

The nausea can be eased very effectively with ginger or peppermint tea, and again with those rehydration salts (or electrolytes).

Painkillers are obviously quite tempting, but paracetamol causes further toxic strain on the liver and kidneys, and ibuprofen can irritate the stomach. So aspirin is probably the safest analgesic for a hangover.

Finally you might well benefit from some B vitamin supplements – to calm your central nervous system (responsible for the tremors, sweats and anxiety), but these will tend to have a more long term effect rather than being a short term cure.

No doubt you’ve got plenty of suggestions for your own hangover cures too, so lets hear what works for you in the comments…

Drinking diaries show an excess is often normal

alcohol journalThis week the BBC monitored the drinking diaries of two typical professional people in their late twenties – both considered themselves to be health conscious and fit.

What emerged was a picture of what many people might consider ‘normal’ patterns of drinking in our culture. However, when their level of alcohol consumption was broken down into units it became apparent that both of them were drinking way in excess of recommended guidelines – 37 units for the woman and 112 units for the man.

They also demonstrated a significant level of ignorance about their drinking, and about the implications for their health. One of them actually said – “I don’t like getting drunk…” yet had consumed over 15 units per session on five days that week, and 25 units (as far as he could remember) on the Saturday! That’s about 8 pints of strong lager or nearly 3 bottles of wine. But he doesn’t like getting drunk – yeah, right!

However, a survey by YouGov also found that many people have no idea what the recommended safe alcohol consumption levels actually are (14 units per week for women and 21 for men), and very few were aware of the units of alcohol present in common drinks.

[Here’s a very handy units of alcohol calculator]

The thing which strikes you when you read the two diaries is that there are many people around drinking exactly the same amounts, yet believing that they don’t have a problem with alcohol.

Are you an alcoholic?