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Speaking up about alcohol and mental health

Alcohol Liaison Nurses, from left, Danielle Russell, Kitty Norris and Michelle Layton

People are being urged to start thinking and talking about alcohol and mental health, as drinking habits change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The call from the Alcohol Care Team at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) comes ahead of Alcohol Awareness Week 2020 (16-22 November 2020), coordinated by Alcohol Change UK.

Alcohol Change UK research showed that more than a quarter (28 percent) of people who have ever drunk alcohol think they drank more during the first lockdown. As lockdown eased over the summer, two in three people said they planned to drink the same amount (49 percent) or more (17 percent).

Furthermore, the Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that in June 2020, more than 8.4 million people in England were drinking at higher-risk levels, up from 4.8 million in February 2020.

OUH will be joining 3,000 other community groups across the UK to raise awareness of the link between alcohol and mental health, to speak out about the issues and the stigma surrounding them, and encourage anyone who is struggling to get the support they need.

Michelle Layton, an Alcohol Liaison Nurse at the Trust, said: "It has been a difficult year for everyone as the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives in many ways.

"Social isolation and a lack of a human connection is a big factor behind why some people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

"Around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, and drinking too much or too often can increase our risk. But many of us are unaware of the link between alcohol and poor mental health, and it's often the first thing we turn to when we're feeling low, stressed, worried, or unable to cope.

"Yet drinking too much or too often can mask or enhance underlying mental health problems - such as anxiety and depression - and prevent them from being properly addressed.

"Alcohol Awareness Week aims to get people thinking and talking about alcohol, to motivate change at every level - individual, community, and national."

The Alcohol Care Team of three nurses cares for inpatients who are drinking alcohol problematically or dependently. They also support staff in managing patients who are withdrawing from alcohol.

During Alcohol Awareness Week, the team, which works closely with Alcoholics Anonymous and Oxfordshire drug and alcohol treatment service Turning Point, will be educating and supporting people around problem drinking and mental health through a range of activities, as well as Trust-wide teaching sessions to help improve patient care.

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: "Many of us are under an unbelievable amount of stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We're seeing that those of us who are drinking more heavily are at real risk of worsening our mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, along with many other health conditions, as we turn to alcohol to cope.

"The good news is that being in control of our drinking can improve our mental health, and there are plenty of techniques out there for taking control if your drinking has got a bit out of hand."

For support with drinking, and for more information about Alcohol Awareness Week, please see the Alcohol Change UK website.