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Published on: 15 November 2021
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Concerns that changes in drinking habits and levels of alcohol consumption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are causing increasing health issues, are leading health experts to remind residents they can ‘Know Your Score’ with a simple online quiz and find steps to cut back.
Estimates show the majority of people in Kent (approximately three-quarters) drink sensibly and in safe limits but around 25 per cent are consuming alcohol at increasing or higher risk. This suggests around 308,000 Kent residents are drinking above the recommended levels of alcohol.
National figures show, of those whose drinking habits had changed, more women had increased their alcohol consumption than men. Alcohol consumption during the pandemic tended to increase with age up to the 55 to 63-year-old age group.*
38-year-old Caroline from Ashford found her drinking increased after being furloughed and then made redundant during the pandemic in 2020.
She said: “It felt like a long-term holiday at first and I was being paid to be at home with my daughter so there was no proper routine which meant I was drinking a bit more each evening and on a more regular basis. But then there were increasing money worries and I’d also be in a grotty mood or tired the next day so I realised it was starting to spiral.
“My GP referred me to Forward Trust where I attended some group sessions online and they helped me to recognise what was happening; they gave me lots of information and support to change my habits, such as swapping my normal cans of strong lager for smaller bottles of lower alcohol or no alcohol beer, and reducing the numbers of nights a week that I’d be drinking. It’s helped me to talk about it, to stop ‘drinking in secret’ and to take back control of this now, before it become much more serious.”
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and also trigger an irregular heartbeat, both of which increase the risk of having a stroke, heavy drinking increases the risk of having a stroke by more than three times. It is also a risk factor for some cancers, particularly head and neck cancers and breast cancer. By drinking less and within the recommended limits, you will reduce your risk of having a stroke, cancer and depression.
Jess Mookherjee, Consultant for Alcohol and Drugs Misuse at Kent County Council said: “We know that Covid has affected, and continues to have an impact on, people’s health and lifestyles. They may be drinking more at home and are simply not aware of their alcohol intake levels because it’s incredibly difficult to appreciate how many units you’re pouring.
“This is already leading to a rise in alcohol-related health harms but we suspect there will also be issues at home and work, and through relationships and on your mental wellbeing, that might not be recognised yet. By simply knowing your ‘score’ – you can start thinking about how many units you’re drinking, how it might be affecting you and get help to cut back. For those who feel their drinking is hurting themselves or loved ones, or they are having trouble keeping their lives in control, we urge them to get the support available now.”
Rates of hospital admissions related to alcohol have been increasing in recent years in Kent – from 320 per 100,000 population in 2008/09, to 444 per 100,000 in 2019/20 (an increase of 39%). Kent residents are urged to try the ‘Know Your Score’ online tool at www.kent.gov.uk/knowyourscore which asks 10 questions about drinking habits before giving users a score and information of where they can get support in Kent to help if they are consuming too much.
There are a range of services available in Kent to help people to get the treatment they need including One You Kent Lifestyle services in the community that can support people if they need further help to cut back. Mark Cummings, One You Kent Locality Lead said: “Our lifestyle advisers can help people make those small changes that can make a big difference towards a healthier lifestyle. We offer free one-to-one support, discussing any concerns you have including alcohol and the effects that drinking too much could be having on your health and wellbeing. We empower clients to reduce their drinking and feel better. We work alongside other drug and alcohol services to make sure clients get the right support for them.”
A range of formal and informal alcohol support services are available, such as AA and Smart Recovery and Al-anon for friends, family and carers of alcoholics. KCC also commissions specialist treatment providers to provide structured treatment for alcohol addiction. Forward Trust runs the East Kent Community Drug and Alcohol Service while Change Grow Live (CGL) provides the West Kent Drug and Alcohol Wellbeing Service.
Paul Woodford, Regional Manager East Kent at Forward Trust said: “The demand for alcohol services continues to grow. A nationwide Forward Trust poll found as many as 20% of UK adults are drinking more after three lockdowns with 17% of respondents stating they experiencing problems as a result of their increased drinking.
“The ‘Know Your Score’ tool is a great initiative, supporting people to make positive changes in their own lives and get help if they need it. Anyone thinking about their level of drinking should take the quiz and if you are worried, get in touch with your GP or visit our website – we’re here to help and some simple changes can make a positive difference.”
Jane Scott from Change Grow Live said: “High risk drinking has increased over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, so this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week is more important than ever. We encourage anyone to use the ‘Know Your Score’ tool - drinking alcohol can be both your friend and your enemy, find out which it is for you (or those you care about) and get advice and help if you don’t like what you find, or are just unsure. If you are concerned about your or someone else’s drinking, we can provide support and advice without judgement.”
Residents can also find a range of tools, tips and local support services that can help you at www.kent.gov.uk/lowermydrinking or call 0300 123 1220.