Q: My drinking increased over the lockdowns, and working from home. Now I'm back in the office most days, I'm noticing I'm missing being able to knock off at four-ish and have a wine or two every day. And when I am at home I've started having a drink at lunchtime. I want to get back to just drinking at the weekend, any tips?
A: If you use alcohol, it's likely your drinking increased over the lockdown periods of the last two years. We have some data to show that our consumption as a country went up, and anecdotally many people I spoke to were likely to drink more instead of going out to socialise, which of course we have not been able to do as much since March 2020.
It's also true that for some, that use hasn't decreased again as life has returned to normal. And that's understandable as, despite the degree of comfort and familiarity alcohol has for many of us in our day-to-day lives, it is also an addictive drug.
What does this actually mean? In short, some people find over time that their drinking creeps up on them, and if they're not careful that can lead to drinking more than they want to, and having trouble controlling their actions around alcohol.
Alcohol is a popular and addictive drug because it "takes the edge off" as people say, in other words, it helps reduce anxiety and tension. And if you haven't found yourself experiencing more anxiety and tension over the last couple of years, then you may not have been paying attention.
One of the definitions of an addictive drug is one that creates tolerance over time, in other words, we need more of it to get the same relief from tension. So if you're the kind of person that experiences relief from a few drinks, and you're under pressure or stress, and you have access, then over time, you're likely to end up drinking more.
We can allow circumstances - if they're unchecked - to work against us.
So a good first step is to change the circumstances, and you've already recognised one - working in the office.
Don't rely on willpower, or you'll struggle to escape the trap of what we call the "seemingly inconsequential decisions."
For instance, you buy wine in the grocery shopping, to have some in the cupboard just in case. But when you get home, you put it in the fridge, not the cupboard, and then mid-afternoon when you open the fridge door - there it is! And before you've stopped to think about it, you're pouring a glass.
It can then feel like the problem was it just happened to be sitting there in the fridge - but when you look back, actually you were setting yourself up.
When we're honest with ourselves, we can see these seemingly inconsequential decisions happen all the time - the trick is to instead consciously make decisions that limit our access to alcohol and support the changes we want to make.
The obvious one is to limit - or remove - alcohol from the house. Avoid the alcohol section at the supermarket. And if working in the office helps prevent you from acting on urges, then do that too - at least in the short term.
And actively work on finding other ways to reduce tension. All the boring stuff - exercise, hanging out with friends (not drinking!) or re-engaging in activities you may have previously enjoyed.
In short - make deliberate decisions to structure your life, so you don't "accidentally" drink whenever you feel like it.