Alcohol Awareness Week is taking place from 16th to 22nd November 2020 and this year the theme is ‘Alcohol and Mental Health’. Mental health issues are a growing public health concern and during these difficult times it is more important than ever to look after your mental health, including being mindful of how much you are drinking.
With around one in five people currently stating that they regularly drink above the recommended low-risk guidelines, the week provides an opportunity to reassess and transform our everyday drinking habits.
Alcohol and liver disease
Although there are many causes of liver disease, in the UK excess alcohol consumption is the most common cause, accounting for around 60% of all cases. There are often no symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease in the early stages, and when symptoms do appear they can be vague, such as feeling tired and a loss of appetite. Unfortunately, this means that in many cases alcohol-related liver disease is only diagnosed at a later stage when significant damage has already been done and treatment options are limited.
According to a recent survey by Alcohol Change, 28% of people who drink in the UK said they consumed more alcohol than usual during lockdown. In some areas the effects of this are already being seen. Hilary Ryan, a Specialist Liver Nurse at Ysbyty Gwynedd (Gwynedd Hospital) in North Wales says: “Covid-19 has had a huge impact on people’s mental health; their jobs, their feeling of security and their daily routines and structures have been adversely affected. As a result, we have seen a significant increase in emergency admissions for alcohol-related liver disease since the pandemic began in March”.
Invaluable support for liver patients
Pamela Healy, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust, said: “We understand that these are extraordinarily difficult times but urge people not to turn to alcohol as a coping strategy as drinking in excess could damage their liver health and potentially lead to more long-term mental health problems and over time.
“Try to stick to the Government guidelines, which advise that both men and women should drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over several days, with two or three consecutive alcohol-free days to give the liver a chance to recover. If you find that you drink more during times of stress, it’s a good idea to find other, healthier ways to relax, like listening to your favourite music, having a bath or even doing some exercise. If you are worried or finding it difficult to cope, please do call the nurses on the British Liver Trust Helpline.”
On 17th November, as part of Alcohol Awareness Week, the British Liver Trust is holding a webinar for over 100 clinicians, allied health care professionals and alcohol care workers to discuss support for alcohol-related liver disease patients. Topics discussed in the event, titled ‘Thinking about Drinking’ included the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on alcohol consumption, removing the stigma around alcohol-related liver disease and raising awareness of the patient information and support services available from the British Liver Trust.
If you are worried about your mental health during the pandemic, read Public Health England’s guidance here. Our Scottish Project Manager, Amy Caffrey, has also published some tips on dealing with anxiety.
The British Liver Trust Helpline can be called free Monday – Friday (10am – 3pm) on 0800 652 7330.
 Opinium (2020), commissioned by Alcohol Change UK. Poll into how people in the UK have drunk during COVID-19 lockdown, and what their plans are as it eases.