Dry July 2020 will be the most important in the 12-year history of the campaign, given the havoc alcohol is causing on many lives amidst the COVID-19 crisis, according to the NSW Mental Health Commission.
With statistical and anecdotal information indicating more people are reaching for a drink, and the known links between alcohol consumption and mental, physical and social problems, Dry July 2020 should be a critical window for drinkers to reflect on and reset consumption choices.
“This is a time to put a red line under – and in many cases through – alcohol consumption,” NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey said.
“It’s understandable that many people experiencing challenges during COVID-19 might reach for a drink, but numbing feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression with alcohol often has consequences.
“Alcohol is usually big trouble when it comes to mental wellbeing – let’s be clear about that.”
Associate Professor, Psychiatrist and NSW Deputy Mental Health Commissioner Dr Martin Cohen said the trend for increasing alcohol consumption since the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia was concerning.
“I worry when people are isolated and drinking more,” Dr Cohen said.
“Many people forget or don’t realise that alcohol is an addictive toxin and central nervous system depressant that, if misused, may harm you.
“Alcohol mucks with how you think and feel and interferes with sleep, which is critical to wellbeing. It can insidiously bleed through your whole life and exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression. That’s before we get to social impacts including violence, accidents, broken relationships, job-losses, self-harm and the significant public money spent trying to address alcohol-related problems.
“It’s a vicious cycle that can be eased when people understand the harms of excessive alcohol use.
“Alcohol plays a big part in our culture and is widely marketed, but the reality is it can be a trap for people who don’t know the risks.
“We ask that people apply the brakes to their alcohol consumption in July and challenge the role of alcohol in their lives.
“If a person is taking medication for anxiety or depression or a psychotic illness, or even if you don’t need medication but are struggling with these issues, reducing your alcohol intake will improve your health.
“Anyone feeling out of sorts should know solutions and supports are often close, such as talking with a friend, contacting a help line or seeing a Doctor or counsellor. Exercising or taking up a hobby are other options. If you’re struggling emotionally, almost anything is better than reaching for a drink.”
On a personal journey of alcohol abstinence for nearly six months, NSW Mental Health Commission Senior Project Advisor Ashleigh Mills says her life has changed immeasurably since quitting.
Ashleigh, who has a lived experience of anxiety, opted for a sober year following the sudden death of a friend late last year, and a diagnosis of severe endometriosis.
“I grew up on the Northern Beaches where drinking was often a rite of passage from a young age, and the habit followed me into middle age,” Ashleigh, now aged 39 said.
“We use alcohol in our society for everything - joy, sadness, celebration, grief, boredom, stress…. it was time to take a break.”
“A few life shake-up’s caused me to finally ask ‘Why am I really drinking? What benefit to my life am I actually getting from drinking? Do I really need alcohol to get into the mood of a social situation?
“Most people I know are fine with my choice, although there are some questions and jibes that I’m used to now.
“It’s just a mindset shift to be able to go out and be sociable without alcohol.
“To say I’m a different person is an understatement. My sleep patterns, mood, motivation, focus and energy have gone to whole new levels. To top it all off, I’ve lost six kilos.”
COVID-19 and alcohol - emerging trends
A number of Australians reported an increase in alcohol consumption during COVID 19.
- 14 percent of people who completed the ABS household impacts of COVID survey reported consuming more alcohol than usual
- A survey conducted by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education found that:
- People are drinking more alcohol than they planned or thought they had (28 per cent), more often (34 per cent drinking daily), earlier in the day (20 per cent) and on their own (28 per cent drinking on their own more often)
- 20 percent of households reported buying more alcohol during COVID-19. In these households:
- 70 percent of people reported drinking more than usual since the COVID-19 outbreak
- 32 percent of people reported they were concerned about the amount of alcohol they or a loved one are consuming
Sources: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, 3-5 April 2020 / ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, 29 Apr - 4 May 2020.
Matt Watson, Mental Health Commission of NSW: 0417 691 884
Any community members who are concerned about their own or a loved one’s mental health are encouraged to speak with trusted support services such as a family GP. Alternatively, find local services via Wayahead’s NSW Mental Health Service Directory or call one of the following support lines:
- NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
- Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
- Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
About the Mental Health Commission of New South Wales
The Mental Health Commission of NSW was established under the Mental Health Commission Act 2012 and came into operation on 1 July 2012. The Commission is an independent statutory authority established with the purpose of monitoring, reviewing and improving the mental health and wellbeing of the people of NSW. In all its work the Commission aims to reflect the experience of people with lived experience of mental health issues and caring, families and kinship groups.