Have you found you’re drinking too much in lockdown? We spoke to two people for whom it’s become a serious problem, their lives and health disintegrating.
Like probably everyone, my Facebook feed in lockdown has been filled with jokes about people’s drinking habits. Hilarious memes and jokes about day drinking and hangovers. It seems like a lot of people have been drinking too much in lockdown.
But for some people, it’s not a joke. It’s serious, and it’s dangerous. The lack of routine has meant that many are now facing worrying drinking habits that have escalated over lockdown.
Maisie, aged 47*
Lockdown literally knocked my legs out from underneath me. I work in business development, and love my job, often out and about, meeting people. So for me to be suddenly locked down, doing no work (I was furloughed) and seeing nobody was a massive shock to the system. I felt totally lost.
I had hoped I would be able to carry on working. But my company felt at the start that it was bad form to be trying to develop new business when people were dying in their hundreds of thousands. They didn’t want to look bad. Fair play I suppose. Frustrating for me though.
I started out like loads of people – I was determined to use my furloughed time to improve myself. I signed up for Davina’s online fitness thing, and started to plan healthy meals. I’ve always been good at taking care of myself. I love making healthy food.
But I’ve also been the sort of person who likes a few drinks every night after work, as a reward or to let off steam. Sometimes on my own at home, a few wines while cooking dinner. But most of the time with other people, nice end to the day in a bar. Few large vodkas, maybe get a bite to eat, you know? I really missed that.
Once I didn’t have anything much to do during the day I found that my ‘rewards’ were getting earlier and earlier. I stopped even bothering to pretend I was exercising or whatever. I used to go for my one hour walk and then I’d be climbing the walls with boredom.
… once I stopped having to speak to people I was actually relieved. Now I could just drink all day
At the beginning I used to do Zoom things, you know, talk to friends. Do pub quiz things. Dress up even. But as time went by I just stopped joining in. Nobody really noticed – I guess everyone is just trying to deal with their own dramas. But that made me feel worse, the fact nobody noticed. Like, those people I used to go drinking with after work? Not one of them checked in on me then.
I found that once I stopped having to speak to people I was actually relieved though. Now I could just drink all day if I liked, and not have to worry if I appeared to be pissed at 11am. I told myself it was funny, that once I went back to work I’d just go back to the old me again. But in reality I found my life and health starting to unravel.
Drinking stopped being fun
My drinking changed. At first it was a laugh, on my own at night playing music and drinking vodka and messaging people. I joined Tinder and spent ages on there chatting to men, it was fun. Then I started to feel like death the next day, and so I’d have a hair of the dog for breakfast before going out for my walk. I stuck sunglasses on and walked round the block in my pyjamas. I never thought I’d drink in the mornings but there I was. God knows what I must have looked like.
Once my days started to be messy like this I decided that the way forward was to get coke so that I’d get stuff done, like the housework or whatever. So then I was buying cocaine, doing that as well. And drinking even more. It didn’t help with anything.
I totally isolated. I couldn’t face talking to anyone at all, so I just shut myself away. People must have started to cotton on maybe, I got calls from friends then. But I would stare at the phone screen, crying, until it stopped ringing and I never picked up the messages. I still haven’t; I can’t face them yet.
My life was falling apart
… the pain just kept getting worse. It didn’t occur to me that maybe I should stop the alcohol
As days and weeks passed I stopped washing or even bothering to get dressed. Ordered booze on Amazon so I didn’t have to go out and face people staring at me. I’d do all my interaction online and on social media rather than talk to people or do Zooms so they couldn’t see how bad I was. Bizarrely I still thought I was okay? I mean, I just thought as soon as things got back to normal, so would I. It’s shocking how quickly this all degenerated.
I had a wake-up call about six or seven weeks into this fiasco. I actually had liver pain, or maybe my pancreas or whatever, I don’t know. Pain down the right hand side of my body anyway. I tried to tell myself it was sugar, it must be the sweet stuff I was having with my vodka, because the pain started when I started drinking vodka and coke.
So I switched mixers, got diet tonic. But the pain didn’t go away so I bought some milk thistle tablets. But the pain just kept getting worse. It didn’t occur to me that maybe I should stop the alcohol.
Finally, one morning I woke up on the floor in the living room, in my own vomit. And I was covered in bruises – I still don’t know how I got them. I must have fallen over I suppose, but I don’t remember. And it was like I was seeing myself for the first time, like I was someone else looking at me? Does that make sense?
And it was at this point that I realised I had a problem. Because once I tried to stop, I found that I couldn’t. Or at least I could, but I was really sick and shaky and madly anxious and the only thing that helped was a drink.
I joined some Facebook groups and that helped. This was the start of what turned out to be a very short attempt at moderating. I’d manage it for a couple of days, just having a glass or two of wine like a normal person. But by day three there I was, waking up on the sofa staring at the table covered in empty glasses and cocaine and feeling like I’d been run over.
I got some help
I went to my GP first and told her what was going on. She was great, not judgy or anything, and she also gave me some sleeping pills and a few Valium for the first few days. They were amazing when I felt really ill.
I do know that I can’t drink safely at the moment. And I don’t know if I will ever be able to again
I joined a group called One Year No Beer, and that has been brilliant. I’m in the middle of a 28 day challenge and I’ve had loads of support from the others in the group. I’ve learned to swap my drinks for alcohol-free alternatives. I still struggle with the idea that I might never be able to drink again, and think back to the person I was before lockdown. That makes me feel really sad. I was successful and fun.
But I’m trying not to think ahead too much and just take it day by day. I do know that I can’t drink safely at the moment. And I don’t know if I will ever be able to again.
I think before lockdown I was a big drinker, but it never consumed me like it does now. Being isolated and unhappy at home has definitely changed something in me. I wonder if I’ll ever be the same again.
I should have known it was going to be a time to be vigilant really. I’m not exactly a new kid on the block. I’m an alcoholic and up until recently I’d been successfully in recovery for over 15 years.
We have a saying in AA about the gift of desperation. I had that gift – I went there on my knees
My story isn’t particularly dramatic or outstanding, although it was obviously a huge deal for me. I was someone who was always fun to go out with, until I wasn’t fun any more. I used to get blackout drunk, pick fights with strangers. I’d come home and be sick or behave badly. Or sometimes not come home for days, just go on the missing list.
My drinking escalated over a number of years until I lost everything. My wife, the kids, my job. Even my driving license. We have a saying in AA about the gift of desperation. I had that gift – I went there on my knees. It was that or chuck myself off Beachy Head. The only thing that stopped me doing that was the fact that I had kids.
I was so happy when I got sober
Once I’d got over my self-pity and got sober, life improved. Not instantly – I had to earn back love and trust. I found a new job, started to rebuild my life. I didn’t ever win my wife back, but at least the kids talk to me now. Or at least, they did.
Alcohol is cunning and baffling. And it creeps up on you when you’re not vigilant. You can never be complacent. But lockdown got me. I mean, alcohol got me really, but I have relapsed in lockdown and it’s made me realise just how important it is to stay connected.
I used to love going to the meetings. A big part of staying sober for me is going to the meetings. Once they stopped and people were doing them online, I lost interest. I don’t like doing online things, I feel really awkward. I honestly thought with so many years under my belt I’d be fine.
Turns out I’m not. I bought some beers on impulse, god knows why. And so I had a drink. I picked up that first drink.
The descent was slower than I thought it would be
I was alright for a while actually. It wasn’t like I drank one drink and fell straight into the jaws of Hell; it took some time. And in that time I thought I’d cracked it, I thought I was in control. But my drinking has gradually crept up and up. Now, it’s not unusual for me to crack through a bottle of scotch in a day, and beers too. And the self-loathing is back. I fucking hate myself.
My blood pressure, which had improved after I quit, has shot back up. I do stuff like go on Facebook pissed, and pick fights with people, or have aggressive text exchanges with people. I don’t know until I wake up the next day and see what I’ve done the night before, cringing.
Thinking about alcohol consumes my every waking moment
That serenity I had in sobriety has gone. My head is filled with thoughts of drinking
What I’ve really noticed is how alcohol has completely taken over my life again, all my head space. That serenity I had in sobriety has gone. My head is filled with thoughts of drinking, not drinking, managing my drinking, counting drinks I’ve had, wondering if I’ve got enough to get through the night, wondering if people have noticed my behaviour, wondering what I did last night… God, it’s exhausting. And drinking stops that, blots it out.
What’s really disturbing now is memory loss. I don’t just mean when I’m out of it, I mean all the time. I plan my entire life around drinking – not seeing people before midday because I’m a wreck. And not seeing people after 3pm because there’s drinking to be done, hiding at home alone.
I know what I need to do. I’ve got to get there. And now that some meetings are happening again, I have to hand this over and get back in that room. Find my humility, get on my knees again and ask God for help. Because I can’t do this on my own. I am totally powerless.
*Names have been changed. Stories as told to Sam Harrington-Lowe, Silver Magazine