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Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

2020 04 29 LSP 476

Alcohol and stress

The patterns that you get into over the next few weeks could be long-lasting. ​While it’s tempting to reach for that beer or glass of wine, drinking more during COVID-19 could have long-term unhealthy impacts.

Although alcohol may initially help you relax, drinking more over an extended period of time can actually increase your feelings of worry. This is because alcohol can cause an imbalance in certain chemicals in your brain, leading to higher levels of anxiety. People are also more likely to drink when they are bored – a common feeling while spending more time at home.

Relying on alcohol for stress relief can seriously affect your health and wellbeing. Drinking too much can put a strain on family relationships, and negatively impact on our mental health. It can affect our physical health too. Too much alcohol can lead to accidents and injuries, and serious health conditions like heart disease, strokes and cancers. Drinking heavily for a sustained period of time, such as during COVID-19, can also lead to long-term alcohol dependence.

The new draft Australian Alcohol guidelines recommend for healthy men and women to drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm.

Top tips

Feeling worried, overwhelmed or bored during the pandemic is understandable, but there are healthier ways to manage how you are feeling:

  • Try to maintain a daily routine and don’t drink at times you wouldn’t normally.
  • Staying active and eating healthy meals can decrease stress, anxiety and depression, and are great for maintaining your immune system too.
  • Keep up with activities you enjoy or use the extra time you have to discover new hobbies and interests.

Alcohol related

  • Avoid stockpiling alcohol at home, as this can lead to increased alcohol consumption and the consumption of others in your household.
  • Eliminate or reduce your alcohol intake so you can remain vigilant, act quickly and make decisions with a clear head, for yourself and others in your family and community.
  • If you drink, keep your drinking to a minimum and avoid getting intoxicated.
  • Never mix alcohol with medications, even herbal or over-the-counter remedies, as this could make them less effective, or it might increase their potency to a level where they become toxic and dangerous.
  • Do not consume alcohol if you take any medication acting on the central nervous system (eg pain killers, sleeping tablets, anti-depressants, etc), as alcohol might increase the effect of these medications resulting in sedation, injury or overdose. The effect of these medications on driving might also be increased even by small amounts of alcohol.

Smoking and drug related

  • Now is a good opportunity to quit or reduce drinking as normal triggers such as parties, dining at restaurants and attending bars and clubs, are not available.
  • Create a buddy and self-support system with someone you trust and reach out for extra help if needed, such as online counselling, interventions and support groups.
  • Avoid social cues like alcohol - people tend to smoke (or smoke more) if they drink alcohol. Use this time to quit while you may be able to more easily avoid triggers.
  • Planning to quit can make a difference to your chances of success. This includes setting a quit date, working out your motivation to quit and working out why you smoke, so you can find the best strategies to match.
  • Work out the way to quit that’s best for you, whether it’s going cold turkey, cutting down, or using a quit smoking medication.
  • You don’t have to quit alone – there are some great tools available, like the My QuitBuddy app or calling Quitline SA on 13 78 48
  • Find some ways to deal with nicotine cravings – these are the same strategies that can help with stress – this can include deep breathing slowly, staying active such as going for a walk, or find a good distraction.
  • Talk with supportive people regularly about how you are feeling and be honest if you are struggling. Techniques for maintaining contact with support people while social distancing include:
    • If you are going to use a plan, ask trusted family and friends to help you stick to it. This could include avoiding drinking or using other drugs alone.
    • Delaying your first use of the day. Starting later will mean you use less.
  • What else can you do that doesn’t involve alcohol and other drugs? Establish a routine, stay active, and connect regularly with friends and family. Designating alcohol or drug-free days can help.
  • If you have used a lot or use more regularly, be prepared to experience withdrawal symptoms when you slow down or stop.
  • Talk with supportive friends, family, and the others in your house about your alcohol and other drug use. Their feedback will help you to identify early if your use is having a negative impact on yourself or others.

If you are worried that you or a loved one is drinking too much, you can access advice and support at Know Your Options website. Or call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1300 131 340. Additional resources to support alcohol behavioural change are available via the Hello Sunday Morning website.

Smoking

Now is a good time to consider quitting smoking. Smokers are at greater risk of contracting respiratory infections and suffering the most serious symptoms. Smokers may also be at greater risk because the very act of smoking – where fingers and cigarettes come in contact with the mouth, could help transmit COVID-19.

Quitting can be hard, but it is one of the best things you can do for your health. People who stop smoking cigarettes experience health benefits almost immediately. Just 24 hours after you quit smoking, you’ve already decreased your risk of heart attack. Two weeks after quitting you’ll find walking is easier and your breathing has improved. One month on, nicotine withdrawals have almost gone and after five years the risk of many cancers has dropped - and you will have saved around $30,000.

Top tips

If you’re ready to quit smoking, the following provide information and support to help you quit your way:

Alcohol and other drug harm reduction

During this uncertain time, you may find yourself drinking more alcohol or using other drugs to cope with anxiety, stress, negative moods or unpredictable changes in your life. This may lead to problems for you and others around you. Stay physically and mentally healthy by avoiding alcohol and other drugs to cope with feeling isolated, bored, or frustrated.

Top tips

  • Video calling
  • Having a virtual dinner or coffee date
  • Having daily creative challenges with a friend or group of friends.

Emergencies

Call 000 immediately if you or anyone around you experiences any of these symptoms while using alcohol or other drugs:

  • confusion and vomiting
  • difficulty breathing or very slow breathing
  • pale skin, blue lips
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures
  • fast or irregular heartbeat or chest or arm pain
  • extreme agitation and paranoia.

Check they are breathing and place them in a stable side position. If someone has stopped breathing, start CPR.

If you are worried about your own alcohol or other drug use, or that of someone you care about, contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1300 13 1340 for information and support, or visit Know Your Options website to find out what services are available to support you.

Support and information from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation also provide a range of helpful information and resources to help people stay as safe as possible during this time.

Content kindly provided by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Government of South Australia.

Family Drug Support information

Family Drug Support Australia is an organisation supporting families affected by drug use.

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