Shall we have a drink? Alcohol and Covid19

Covid19 entered our lives in March and has continued to make its presence felt with no sign of bidding us farewell for the foreseeable future.

As is often the case in times of social turmoil and global pandemics, the rumour mill has run wild and quackery has reared its ugly head. 

While we were all trying to get to grips with this most unwelcome and mysterious visitor, many foolish claims spread almost as quickly as the disease itself.

Some alleged that upping your alcohol consumption could safeguard you against coronavirus by acting as some sort of deployed warrior that would kill the virus in your body.

Among the more outlandish, and unsubstantiated, claims about alcohol’s role in battling the disease were:

  • – Consuming alcohol can kill the virus
  • – Alcohol on the breath kills the virus in the air
  • – Consuming alcohol improves the immune system

Sorry to disappoint but those claims are only wishful thinking without scientific fact.

This dangerous narrative developed from the notion that the antiseptics found in alcohol that kill the virus externally (like on our skin) might also have the same effect when ingested

And so far widespread was this fallacy that it infamously reached its way to the POTUS whose alarming ideas on injecting bleach were quickly shot down!

Alcohol abstinence during lockdown

A number of countries, including India and South Africa, restricted access to alcohol as a lockdown measure.  This appears sensible enough, as the social impact of alcohol sits poorly with social distancing. 

However, despite its noble intention of preventing death and safeguarding health during lockdown, in some cases it had the adverse effect of causing widespread poisoning and blindness and even some deaths as a result of illegal bootleg alcohol.

Though legally enforcing the prohibition of alcohol is an extreme – and some might argue crazy – measure, there is ‘method to its madness,’ and indeed abstaining from alcohol is a guaranteed step to improving your overall health and immunity.

Many studies have shown that alcohol causes inflammation, drives weight gain (both traits associated with severe cases of coronavirus) and is detrimental to the immune system

And on top of that the ‘buzzing’ and barrier-eroding effect of alcohol is likely to drive social behaviours associated with spread.

Over indulging in lockdown

Lockdown has provided ample opportunity to over indulge in alcohol – with some getting carried away with the novelty of the situation, others using it to mark the end of the day and, more dangerously, others using it as an escape mechanism.

The psychology behind our drinking tendencies shows that many of our habits are socially reinforced.

Like, for example, the occasions you indulge in a glass because someone else fancies it. Or perhaps the peer pressure of being considered anti-social for not indulging at group gatherings. 

These social pressures can often creep into our personal relationship with alcohol and result in us drinking more days than not.

But now that we don’t have the excuse of physical social gatherings, how has our drinking fared in the face of Zoom calls and lockdown? 

Alcohol Change UK commissioned some research on the changes in peoples drinking habits during lockdown. 

The study questioned a group of people, with 90% of them being alcohol consumers, and found that around 30% had altogether stopped or at least reduced their drinking frequency during lockdown. 

While just over 20% were conscious of drinking more often and the remaining 50% believed their intake to be stable. 

The study found that heavier drinkers tended to up their intake, with one in 6 being daily drinkers.

While it was the lighter drinkers who reduced or stopped. 

Why moderation is key

Habits can be quick to form and hard to break. 

We know that alcohol can disrupt sleep, reduce stress-coping capacity and increase anxiety. 

On top of that it is calorific and weight gain in lockdown is a pervasive issue we have discussed in earlier blogs.

So if you’re looking to keep your waistline measurements in check, you should think to keep your alcohol units in check too. 

And although it is perfectly fine to indulge in a glass here or there, using alcohol as a marker for the end of the working day or to signpost the weekend is a dangerous and slippery slope. 

As we’ve already established the myths promulgated about alcohol safeguarding against Covid are utterly false. 

And rather adversely, increasing your alcohol consumption is more likely to increase physical vulnerability to SARS-CoV-2, as well as worsen your mental health during the pandemic.

Simple steps to achieve a healthy balance:

  • (1) Use a unit counting App like Drinkless to get an honest idea of your intake
  • (2) Try a dry week to see if you can
  • (3) Ensure more alcohol-free nights than drinking nights
  • (4) If you are struggling with your mood or weight, recognise the role alcohol could be playing