5 Tips That Will Help You Cope Without Alcohol During Lockdown
The conversation around the banning of alcohol and cigarette sales during the national lockdown has been a contentious one, to say the least. There’s even a petition on change.org with 47 068 signatures calling on the government to lift the ban on cigarette sales.
And while there are a lot of smokers, the issue around alcohol itself is arguably the most volatile. If you’ve been watching the news, you’ll know that the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, has made it extremely clear that the ban on alcohol will not be lifted during the lockdown and anyone found trading or transporting alcohol will face the full might of the lockdown laws.
However, some alcohol addiction organisations have pleaded with the government to consider the life-threatening impact this will have on alcohol addicts (when withdrawal starts kicking in) and lift the ban.
But that’s a much bigger issue and not one we’re necessarily addressing in this article. Here, our experts are going to offer coping strategies for heavy drinkers who don’t have a dependency on alcohol, but will experience frustration due to the inaccessibility.
Excessive drinking vs alcohol addiction
Clinical psychologist Shelley Heusser tells us that the distinction between heavy drinking and alcohol addiction/dependency is a very important one to make.
“As the word suggests, alcohol dependency refers to someone who can’t go without alcohol,” he says.
“You wake up in the morning and the first thing you’re thinking about is a drink. If you don’t drink you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms; in order to alleviate those symptoms, you need another drink.”
In that sense, almost all alcoholics are heavy drinkers, but not all heavy drinkers are alcoholics.
Heavy drinkers can be considered recreational drinkers. These are people who have more than 15 drinks in a week (for men) and more than eight drinks a week (for women) and whose drinking does not have an adverse impact on their overall life. Heusser explains that having a glass of wine in the evening or drinking the whole weekend doesn’t necessarily indicate an alcohol addiction.
“Heavy drinkers can stop from Monday to Friday. An alcoholic doesn’t have the ability to stop on any day.”
What we’re facing now
Painting a picture of the circumstance we currently find ourselves under as a country, and the world, Heusser says that this is something unprecedented and a lot of recreational drinkers will feel like they are being robbed of something.
“Something about their way of being in the world has been taken away from them… and now they have to rely on other mechanisms to keep themselves going,” he says.
Addiction psychology specialist Mark Lockwood adds that the most important thing people can do in this time is to use the opportunity to cultivate new habits that will add more dimension to their lives post-lockdown and beyond.
“This is the perfect time to really focus your perspective on how you can positively impact your life going forward with the time to yourself that you have now; time that you might never have this much of ever again,” Lockwood says.
Here are five strategies to help you through this… sober time:
1/ Practice mindfulness
The Oxford Dictionary describes mindfulness as a “mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations”. Clinical psychologist Zamo Mbele believes this is quite pivotal for the recreational drinker who no longer has access to alcohol.
“Some people will experience a type of anxiety or discomfort in the moment of craving and in this instance, mindfulness becomes an important technique to practice,” he says.
“This can include meditation and activities such as colouring in, cooking and so on; mindfulness can take you away from the craving and into a space of increased focus, reduced stress and an improved mental health state.”
2/ Reach out
Heusser says that a great way to cope with the frustration of booze-lessness is to reach out and have a conversation with the person you’re in lockdown with (or call a friend or family member if you’re in lockdown alone).
“For a lot of people, this is not in the scope of their way of being,” he says. “They are not used to thinking if they feel frustrated, they should turn to someone and have a conversation. Most recreational drinkers will think: ‘I have a frustration, let me have a glass of wine so that it can give me a buzz and I’ll immediately feel soothed.’”
And by reaching out to someone, Heusser doesn’t mean watching a movie together or playing a game. He means actually having a conversation. While this may sound simple enough, he emphasises that because of all the distractions we have today (many of which have been taken away during this time), this can be hard for a lot of people. “This is a great opportunity to step out of your comfort zone.”
3/ Invest in other activities
Mbele reckons that this booze-less period is the perfect opportunity to reflect on a few things.
“Use the time spent thinking about and craving alcohol to potentially do something that can be a lot more creative,” he says.
“We know that from a lot of alcohol addicts in remission, one of the things they speak about the most is how much more time and energy they have to invest in other activities that are progressive and productive and how that’s been such a delight.”
Lockwood adds that even organising photo albums, finally documenting your home recipes and just generally engaging in things that you haven’t done in years can be extremely fulfilling. Nothing is too big and nothing is too small.
4/ See boredom as an opportunity
The inaccessibility of alcohol has left a lot of people fearing that they will become bored.
“Instead of seeing boredom as a handicap, reframe your perspective and see it as an opportunity,” Mbele urges.
“It’s only in the space of boredom where a person can find what they’re truly interested in. Boredom allows you to become 100% interested and curious about yourself and this is something we often bypass when we grab a glass of wine or a beer or just sit on our phones all day.”
He explains that it’s more about sitting in your boredom and letting your interests find you than actively trying to think up and create a picture of what your interests could possibly be.
5/ Start engaging in physical activity
Mbele explains that drinking alcohol triggers the release of the brain’s feel-good chemicals and finding a substitute for this might bring you some relief.
“Because we recognise that there’s an endorphin response that often comes with the use of alcohol, physical activity is a great substitute for this,” he says.
When should you consider seeking out external help?
During the lockdown you might discover that the love you have for alcohol, which you thought was recreational, is actually dependent and requires external help and support. Mbele outlines the key signs to look out for in yourself or a loved one:
- “Monitor your craving for alcohol. How persistent is it? How intense is it? Is it distracting you from doing other important activities in your life? If it’s preoccupying your day to the point where you are not motivated to do anything else – even things as simple as eating, sleeping, bathing – then this is a sign that you need help.”
- “If the craving is driving you to act embarrassingly in a way that negatively impacts your reputation and/or is driving you to break the law or do something that puts you in danger, then this is another sign.”
- “If you are having a physiological response because that you haven’t consumed alcohol, then this is a sure sign that you need to reach out for help.”
- “If you’ve become a different person and the friends and family you’re interacting with during this time can’t stand being around you in the absence of the substance, this is another sign that you might need help.”
Alcoholics Anonymous is currently running an online support service. You can find that here.