Turning to Alcohol in a Crisis?

As somebody who used to regularly enjoy a drink, I completely understand the temptation to turn to alcohol through these strange and unprecedented days. Your regular routine is out of the window and you might not have a specific need to get up in the morning. Suddenly opening a bottle of wine at six o'clock on a sunny evening can seem like a perfectly legitimate way to cope with the crisis. 

Once all the toilet roll, packets of pasta and tinned tomatoes had been cleared from the supermarket shelves, the next aisles to empty were beers and spirits. I've seen many Facebook posts over the past few weeks citing the usual cork popping cliches. 'Be rude not to', 'got to enjoy something whilst staying home', 'it's officially wine o clock in our house' etc etc. As an ex-drinker I get it. That first chilled sip, it seems so relaxing and fun and might even add a splash of colour to an otherwise dull day.

When I stopped drinking it was only ever going to be temporary. Just until I'd managed to clear my psoriasis and eczema. Then I'd find a way to better balance my alcohol intake. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have been what you'd class as an on-paper alcoholic by any stretch of the imagination. In fact I'd often be the designated driver, I worked in clubs for years and spent many Friday and Saturday nights completely sober because I had to drive home, but boy did I love the feeling alcohol gave me.

Gone were my stresses and anxiety, one glass was all it took to transform into the person I wanted to be - confident, sassy and completely untouchable. I felt instantly relaxed, happy and on top of the world. As the alcohol wore off those feelings of stress and anxiety amplified again, so I'd keep topping my glass up until I'd eventually pass out. The next morning I'd wake in a pool of shame, scrolling my messages and call lists for evidence of any further self-destruction or damage I'd caused. Total cringe. 

I'm most certainly not alone in having used alcohol as a numbing tool to block out anxiety, deep unhappiness or the frustration that life is not going quite as planned. 

You might be convincing yourself you've got your drinking perfectly under control. After all, you're not cracking open the vodka at lunchtime. What harm can a few glasses of fizz really do? At a time when we need our immune system to be at it's strongest and our stress levels keeping in check, adding alcohol into the mix is really not a great idea. 

Alcohol and Our Immune System  

Alcohol effects the body in different ways. Most of us know that it can have a negative impact upon our liver. In fact drinking a large amount of alcohol, even for just a few days, can lead to a build-up of fats. This is called alcoholic fatty liver disease. You might be less aware that alcohol also damages the immune system, increasing our risk of potentially fatal illnesses such as pneumonia. The fact it's been proven to affect the respiratory system - at a time when the worldwide pandemic covid-19 has been shown to attack our lungs - should be enough to dissuade us from opening ourselves up to the increased risk of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome that comes with drinking.

Scientific studies are also looking at the impact of alcohol on our gut microbiome - these are the bacteria in our digestive tract that play a crucial role in fighting disease. Alcohol damages the epithelial cells in our gut, making it more difficult for the body to correctly absorb the nutrients it needs. 

Signs of an Alcohol Problem

I used to kid myself into believing I didn't have an alcohol problem. Just because you have not been diagnosed as a full-blown alcoholic, does not mean alcohol is not already causing you issues. It's sneaky, and can damage your liver, immune system, skin, relationships and mental health before you even realise what it's up to.

Alcohol is a strange drug when you think about it. Completely socially acceptable yet highly addictive and responsible for thousands of deaths and countless injuries each year.

Here are some common signs you might be more dangerously reliant upon alcohol than you think;

  • You use alcohol to relax or relieve stress
  • You use alcohol to boost confidence
  • You often drink to the point of becoming drunk 
  • You regularly drink multiple times per week
  • You argue with friends or partners whilst drinking - in person or on the phone
  • You experience hazy memories the following morning
  • You joke about having an alcohol problem
  • You get defensive when confronted about alcohol problems
  • You're tempted to drink drive the same day or the following morning
  • You suffer with illnesses - such as fatty liver - caused or exacerbated by drinking

Alcohol and Skin Conditions 

Certain skin disorders have now been demonstrated to be affected by alcohol misuse, in particular psoriasis and discoid eczema. Rosacea, post-adolescent acne and superficial infections may also be exacerbated by drinking. 

Alcohol and Rosacea

You might have seen the old chap in the pub with a 'drinkers nose'. Rhinophyma, to give it its medical name, is a skin condition commonly characterised by a bumpy, red or swollen appearance of the nose and cheeks. It's actually a subtype of another skin condition called rosacea, which causes chronic inflammation of the skin. This triggers broken blood vessels and pustules on or around the nose, giving it the red, swollen look often associated with drinkers nose.

Alcohol and Psoriasis 

When it comes to alcohol and psoriasis, a study conducted by Harvard Medical School showed women who drank five or more beers per week doubled their chances of developing psoriasis. Drinking also appears to exacerbate pre-existing psoriasis, and the magnitude of alcohol consumption may be related to both a higher incidence and severity of psoriasis ie; the more you drink the more likely and more severe your skin condition. 

Alcohol and Eczema 

Drinking alcohol often dries out our skin, as well as dilating the blood vessels, meaning eczema prone skin often becomes more red, itchier and uncomfortable. Dr Phil Hampton, consultant dermatologist at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals, who led a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, suggests excessive drinking may be both a cause and a consequence of eczema in some people. He also warns that some drugs used to treat the condition may interact with alcohol, resulting in unwanted side effects including liver inflammation.

Alcohol Stress, Depression & Weight Gain

Whilst using alcohol to block out the stress and worry that come with the current world crisis might seem attractive, research shows it could actually be a really poor choice for our mental health. We know that there is a connection - self-harm and suicide are much more common in people with alcohol problems and it seems this is a two way street;

  • you regularly drink too much or binge drink which makes you feel depressed 
  • you drink to relieve anxiety or depression

Either way alcohol affects the chemical balance in our brain, increasing the risk of depression. Hangovers can create a cycle of waking up feeling ill, anxious, jittery and guilty. Life gets more difficult through arguments with family or friends, trouble at work, memory loss and sexual problems.

Alcohol can also cause us to gain weight. The increase in stored fat associated with obesity can contribute to a variety of changes in skin physiology and is implicated in a range of dermatologic conditions.

How to Stop Drinking Alcohol

If you feel you're ready to make a change to your drinking habits, now might be as good a time as any. Without a long list of social engagement to throw you off course, now is the perfect moment to commit to living a sober life. 

Whilst it might feel as though you're not truly living without alcohol, in actual fact quite the opposite is true. When you’re sober, you have more time and mental energy to spend on the people who matter most to you. Without the distraction of alcohol, you’ll be able to stay physically and emotionally present with others.

Instead of using alcohol to self-medicate your insecurities away, you might be surprised to find out how much more effectively you can deal with things when you're sober. You'll learn how to build your self esteem without a veil of alcohol to hide behind. You will often find you're more productive, you'll be able to focus fully on work or developing your creative talents. You'll have a renewed energy and zest for life. 

Trust me, sobriety does not have to be boring or painful. In fact, being sober can make life more enjoyable and rewarding than it’s ever been before.

 

STUDIES

Alcohol and the immune system https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590613/

Alcohol & weight gain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3082959/

Fat distribution https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2275283

Alcohol & psoriasis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22004481 

Women, beer and psoriasis https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-10986617

Cutaneous disease and alcohol misuse https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7908595

Alcohol and depression https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15808128