Lockdown has affected all of our usual habits, not least of which, our drinking habits. Here are some useful insights into how our community's experiencing these changes and what you can do if you want to address your own changing drinking habits.
By Jussi Tolvi • 12th July 2020
Photo by Monica di Loxley
Co-Founder of Club Soda and Queers Without Beers
The Covid-19 pandemic has been an anxious and difficult time for many, if not all of us. And anxiety as well as many other mental health issues often go hand in hand with drinking problems.
To find out how LGBTQ+ people have been dealing with the lockdown, I conducted a survey within the Queers Without Beers community. I asked about their drinking habits and general wellbeing in June, in the middle of the UK Covid-19 lockdown. The 58 responses covered people aged from 18-24 to 60+ years old. Half of the respondents said they never drink, one in five identified as a mindful drinker, and one in four wanted to either cut down or quit alcohol.
Of those that do drink, one in three said they have been drinking less during lockdown, one in five about the same, but more than half were drinking more. Even more worryingly, half of those who had increased their drinking said they drank "a lot more".
The respondents also reported quite a few other wellbeing issues. Over 72% said they had suffered from anxiety during lockdown, 63% reported feeling loneliness, 59% stress, 46% depression, 44% sleep problems, 33% eating problems, 26% cravings for alcohol, and 19% relationship problems. Most of these figures are higher than those reported by Club Soda members in a similar survey. It is not news that LGBTQ+ people have higher rates of mental health issues, which this survey again unfortunately confirms.
If you are concerned about your alcohol use, the first step is to become more aware of it.
But the survey also asked about the the good things about the pandemic, and over 70% of the responses did mention at least one good thing. For example: "Enjoying being at home. Enjoying being with partner. Enjoying a simpler life." The LGBT Foundation in Manchester also completed their own, bigger and more wide-ranging lockdown survey. You can read their findings here.
If you are concerned about your alcohol use, the first step is to become more aware of it. Think about your habits in detail: Where and when do you drink? Who with? How much do you drink, and what kinds of drinks? It may be helpful to keep a diary for a week or two and make detailed notes. Then think carefully: which of the drinks you drank you now wish you hadn’t had? Can you form a plan for the next month: what, where and when you will drink? And when will you say no?
Several sober months is even better, as you will have time to become more conscious of the role alcohol plays in your life.
If you find it hard to stick to your plans, it may be time to take a short break. We’ve found that even a month off can really help. Several sober months is even better, as you will have time to become more conscious of the role alcohol plays in your life. And you may notice that after the awkward first time not drinking in a given situation, the second time is easier, and the third easier still.
After your sober sprint, however long, you will be able to balance the good things about alcohol against the bad things. And only you can draw the line here: do you want to go back to your previous habits, stick to an alcohol-free life, or find a mindful drinking middle way? And don’t forget that nothing is permanent - you can always rethink and change your mind later on.
Whatever you decide, there is lots of information and support out there to help you. Just in the UK there are several online communities and support networks to choose from: Soberistas is mainly for women who want to quit for good; One Year No Beer is based on personal challenges to take time off drinking; Club Soda is a mindful drinking movement that caters to all goals. And for an LGBTQI+ specific organization, Club Soda offshoot Queers Without Beers offers online support and local groups in London, Manchester and Bristol (and hopefully a few more locations soon!).
Many of Helsa's Partner Therapists are specialised in working with issues surrounding alcohol and drug consumption so if you feel that you would benefit from a more personalised approach or would like to discuss some of your concerns in a therapeutic environment this could be an additional option.
Jussi is a co-founder of Club Soda and Queers Without Beers. He is from Finland, but has lived in London for more years than he can count. Nowadays a very mindful drinker, Jussi also practices meditation and tai chi which he finds good for his mental health.