Alcohol risks under lockdown

Alcohol risks under lockdown
Isolation could lead to risky behaviour, writes Chai Brady


Social distancing and staying at home have become the new norm and even as restrictions are eased there are still a lot people doing this to protect each other during the pandemic. However, there are concerns this could be leading to dangerous behaviours due to boredom, anxiety and or health issues.

Charities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have warned about the consumption of alcohol during the coronavirus crisis as people are faced with lockdown and a dramatic change in lifestyle.

Alcohol, when consumed responsibly, can have very limited negative health implications according to several studies, but there is a need to be vigilant and keep an eye on how many units are being drank each day and week. These are unusual times however, and some authorities are advocating for people to drastically minimise their intake.

There is also a lot of false information and ‘fake news’ in the public sphere about the virus, with some people apparently believing high strength alcohol can protect them from Covid-19. Last week the WHO published a fact sheet focused on alcohol in an effort to dispel myths. It states: “Alcohol is known to be harmful to health in general, and is well understood to increase the risk of injury and violence, including intimate partner violence, and can cause alcohol poisoning.

“At times of lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence. WHO/Europe reminds people that drinking alcohol does not protect them from Covid-19, and encourages governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption.”

Busting myths

As part of its public health response to Covid-19, the WHO has worked with partners to develop a fact sheet entitled: ‘Alcohol and Covid-19: what you need to know’.

“Fear and misinformation have generated a dangerous myth that consuming high-strength alcohol can kill the Covid-19 virus. It does not. Consuming any alcohol poses health risks, but consuming high-strength ethyl alcohol (ethanol), particularly if it has been adulterated with methanol, can result in severe health consequences, including death,” it states.

“Alcohol consumption is associated with a range of communicable and noncommunicable diseases and mental health disorders, which can make a person more vulnerable to Covid-19. In particular, alcohol compromises the body’s immune system and increases the risk of adverse health outcomes.

“Therefore, people should minimise their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

WHO add that as alcohol is a psychoactive substance that is associated with mental disorders, people at risk or who have an alcohol-use disorder, are particularly vulnerable, especially when in self-isolation. “Medical and treatment services need to be alert and ready to respond to any person in need,” it says.


Alcohol is responsible for 3 million deaths a year worldwide according to WHO, who say a third of these deaths occur in Europe. It says the ‘European region’ not only has the highest alcohol intake and the highest prevalence of drinkers in the population, but it is also the region with the highest prevalence of alcohol use disorders in the population and the highest share of deaths caused by alcohol, among all deaths.

“Alcohol is consumed in excessive quantities in the European Region, and leaves too many victims. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we should really ask ourselves what risks we are taking in leaving people under lockdown in their homes with a substance that is harmful both in terms of their health and the effects of their behaviour on others, including violence,” says Carina Ferreira-Borges, Programme Manager, Alcohol and Illicit Drugs Programme, WHO/Europe.

The WHO go as far as to propose restrictions be put in places to “protect health and reduce harm caused by alcohol”. The WHO add that this should be “complemented by communicating with the public about the risks of alcohol consumption, and maintaining and strengthening alcohol and drug services”.

Already there are studies ongoing in Europe aimed at quantifying what change, if any, there has been regarding people’s relationship with alcohol during the pandemic. Alcohol Action Ireland promoted a survey this month that is attempting to do just this.

The study is a collaboration of epidemiological scientists from 11 research institutes across Europe with the aim of linking alcohol intake to experiences regarding the current Covid-19 pandemic. With the change in government regulation regarding the pandemic, it is believed there could also be a change in alcohol consumption.

The principal investigator of the survey is Dr Jürgen Rehm and it is being co-ordinated through the Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at Technische Universität Dresden.

Dr Rehm is a leader in generating and analysing the scientific data needed to inform policy-makers about strategies to reduce alcohol, tobacco and other drug-related harm. This includes economic studies on the costs of substance use and the cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness of various interventions strategies.

Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications and Advocacy in Alcohol Action Ireland said: “The dramatic impact of Covid-19 on all our lives has been significant and the early trade data, up to mid-April, indicates there has been a significant spike in alcohol sales.

“By collaborating with our colleagues across Europe, we hope this study will contribute to a better understanding of consumption patterns and health outcomes during times of pandemic or similar events involving restrictions and quarantine, and should support evidence-based policy action and decisions in times of crises to protect health and well-being.”

Those wishing to contribute to the study can take a 10 minute anonymous survey by following:

Domestic abuse

It has been highlighted that although many people are doing their best to stay home and keep others safe, there are many that are unsafe in their homes due to domestic abuse.

According to a post on, which is managed by the HSE National Social Inclusion Office and are responsible for providing services connected to a range of issues including addiction and homelessness, drug and alcohol use could increase the risk of domestic violence and could also be used as a coping mechanism by those who experiencing abuse.

In a message published on their website it states: “Problematic use can prevent someone from seeking help for domestic violence and can be used as a threat to them by a perpetrator. Regardless if drugs or alcohol are involved, it is important for you to get support for yourself during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is important that you know you are not alone – domestic and sexual violence support services from State agencies and the voluntary sector have been adapted and increased to ensure they remain available to support you, even during the restrictions which are now in place due to Covid-19.”

The coronavirus crisis is not just a crisis relating to the danger of the virus itself, as it’s increasingly becoming clear, there are many more implications to those who are suffering its wider affects that we may not realise until it’s too late. Many of the severe outcomes can be avoided by personal responsibility, and it seems getting a hold of alcohol consumption is certainly one of them.

Get information and support for domestic violence at Support for drug and alcohol use during the pandemic can be found at the HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 Monday-Friday 9.30am -5.30pm or via email at