Disclaimer: This resource provides information, not advice. Please read the full disclaimer at the end of this resource.
Drinking alcohol might seem like a way of relaxing or taking your mind off the constant stream of news about COVID-19. But if you drink more than 14 units a week, it can negatively affect your health and make you more at risk from the effects of COVID-19.
Now might be a good time cut down or stop drinking to improve your overall health, including your immunity.
This resource will help you to:
- recognise if you are drinking at a level that could affect your health
- help yourself to cut down or stop drinking, if it is safe to do so.
You should not try to stop drinking without medical help if you:
- regularly drink over 15 units of alcohol every day. (This is equal to any of the following: half a bottle of spirits, 1.5 bottles of wine, 3 cans of super lager or 2 litres of strong cider)
- drink alcohol soon after you wake up to relieve shakes or sweats
- have had withdrawal symptoms in the past when you’ve cut back or stopped drinking alcohol (these symptoms sometimes take up to a few days to start)
- have epilepsy
- have had seizures (fits)
- have seen and heard things that you can’t account for when you have cut down or stopped drinking previously
If you any of these apply to you, it’s likely you will need to do some planning if you want to cut down or stop your drinking. If you do intend to do this, get support from family, friends or services if you can.
If you have made up your mind to try and cut down or stop drinking. these steps will help to guide you through the process.
You will need to be careful about cutting down if you regularly drink over 15 units of alcohol every day, and particularly so if you drink over 30 units every day.
Bear in mind that services offering face-to-face support might not be available during the COVID-19 pandemic, but other services are still running, including over the phone.
Step 1: Work out how much you drink
Work out your typical daily intake. You may know this already or be able to work it out from your buying routine.
If you are unsure, keep a diary of your drinking. Remember to include morning, afternoon and evening drinking and be as accurate as you can.
Write down each drink you have – when you drink it – and find out how many units it has in it.
Step 2: Make a plan
Once you know how much you have been drinking, continue to drink at the same level for at least three days before you start to cut down.
Decide how much to cut down by each day. If you drink under 30 units a day, you may be able to gradually reduce the amount you drink until you've stopped within about eight days. This would mean cutting down the amount you drink by about 4 units each day. But this is just an example timeline and you may take much longer.
If you are over 65, you should at least double the length of time spent at each stage of cutting down given in the example above.
Ultimately, it is important that you reduce your drinking each day at a pace that is manageable for you. This will help prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, that may lead to other more serious problems. So if you later feel the pace is too fast, you can always adjust it.
It’s also important to:
- Tell people you trust that you are doing this and keep in contact with them.
- Let your alcohol worker (if you have one) know that you are doing this, so they can provide you with more support and advice
- Ensure that you have food and other necessities in the house to last for at least seven days.
- Keep a note of your daily intake – be honest with yourself and other people
- Measure your drinks using the same glass or measuring cup, or ask a family member to do this for you.
- Try to space out your drinks, particularly in the middle of the day.
Many local organisations are arranging online support and your local community alcohol/addiction service will be able to give you up-to-date information. It is a very good idea to make contact with a support organisation before you start cutting back as their help can be very useful, both while you are in the process of doing it and afterwards.
Step 3: Cut down gradually at your own pace
Start gradually cutting down your drinking, in line with the plan you made in step 2.
It is very important that you reduce the amount you drink each day at a pace that is manageable for you. This will help prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking anxiety, nausea.
If you do experience withdrawal symptoms like these, this means you are cutting down too rapidly. So, slow down the pace at which you are reducing your drinking to no more than 2 or 3 units each day.
What problems should I look out for when cutting down my drinking?
Lookout for any of the following:
- your symptoms getting worse, such as severe shaking and very heavy sweating
- seizures (fits)
- you start to see, hear or feel things that aren’t there
- you get confused about where you are, what time it is, who you are with
- poor coordination and unsteadiness on your feet.
If you get any of these serious complications, call 999 immediately or get help from A&E.
Step 4: Take care of your health and wellbeing
- Make sure you arrange a regular phone call with anyone supporting you. There are several organisations that offer online and telephone support.
- People often describe feeling frightened and alone when they stop drinking. Let others know how you feel, and try to distract yourself by doing things that you enjoy.
- Keep to a routine (by getting up at the same time every day) and be patient.
- Try to eat foods high in thiamine (vitamin B1), such as meat, fish, brown bread and rice. If your doctor has prescribed you thiamine tablets, make sure you remember to take them.
- Keep well hydrated – drink plenty of water or tea.
Your sleep may take time to improve. Sleep depends on routine and improves with practice. So be patient, stick to a sleep routine. Sleeping tablets are rarely helpful and best avoided.
You may be on your own with children, or caring for a vulnerable adult. It’s important that you make sure that anyone you care for will be safely looked after if you become too ill or feel unable to care for them while you are reducing how much you drink. If you or your family already have a key worker, or a children’s worker, arrange to keep in regular contact so they can check in on how you are all doing.
If you don’t currently have any support from an organisation, contact your local alcohol addiction service who can offer you advice and help to keep the children safe. You can also ask for help from health visitors or school nurses (ask at nursery or school). Children may benefit from support from family or a helpline such as Childline.
Find a local alcohol service
- England: Find a local alcohol service in England
- Scotland: Find a local alcohol service in Scotland
- Wales: Find a local alcohol service in Wales
- Northern Ireland: Find a local alcohol service in Northern Ireland
Mutual aid and support groups
Before the COVID-19 epidemic, help and support for recovery from alcohol-related problems took place in the community. But online and phone support has now increased. SMART Recovery helps individuals recover from any addictive behaviour and lead meaningful and satisfying lives.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
For members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), recovery is based on coming together with other self-defined alcoholics through working and living a 12-step programme, within a network of meetings, fellowship, sponsorship and recovery friends. Individuals can attend one of the many existing online meetings. Details can be obtained by calling the 24-hour helpline – 0800 917 7650. There is also a list of AA meetings provided which can be accessed remotely via the internet.
Other useful organisations
- Childline – Call free on 0800 1111
- Drink Wise Age Well
- Down Your Drink – Advice on cutting down
- MIND – mental health support
- Mental health – Equally Well
- Nacoa helpline – Support for children affected by a parent’s drinking – Call 0800 358 3459 (2–7pm)
- Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems
- We Are With You (formerly Addaction)