| 17.9°C Dublin

Wine o'clock and the stress of lockdown

Larissa Nolan

Half of Ireland uses alcohol to tackle stress, but maybe we should throw away the crutch before it's too late


Half of adults in Ireland use alcohol as a way to cope with stress and worry, according to studies

Half of adults in Ireland use alcohol as a way to cope with stress and worry, according to studies


Half of adults in Ireland use alcohol as a way to cope with stress and worry, according to studies

Are you surviving the lockdown - by getting locked? Sorry if that sounds facetious at such a serious time, but it seems fairly clear most people are drinking their way through this existential crisis. Let's be honest: it's our national coping strategy.

Ireland is curiously calm on lockdown and I'd hazard a guess it's because a good percentage of us are sedated. We're all tipping away at the booze as "something for the nerves" - and can legitimately justify daily drinking as hardly being our biggest problem right now.

I know I am. Before you call social services, I'm not talking about getting drunk. Maybe a glass or two at night - every night - as something to look forward to at the end of the day. Something to take the edge off the dread. To blunt the loneliness. I imagine this qualifies as a form of alcohol dependence.

Alcohol is what is keeping many of us sane throughout the greatest global challenge since World War II. If you took the bottle away from us, things would look very different. We seem to be coping well, but we're likely just masking the stress. Are we rule-following and resilient - or just self-medicated?

Our dependence on drink showed up in an April Fool's joke doing the rounds on WhatsApp, about alcohol sales being banned during the quarantine. We all laughed a bit too hard at that one: SHUT UP! Don't give them any ideas!

Singer Sinead O'Connor thinks the same, asking in a recent post: "Can't help being curious - who's getting through this by getting shit-faced every day?"

It wasn't toilet rolls I stockpiled in the panic-buying phase; it was booze. I'm not proud to admit this, but I felt more content when I had a few bottles of wine in the house, in advance. And a naggin of gin. And one of vodka. Just in case. I don't even drink spirits, normally.

I'm hardly the only one to ensure there was some form of anaesthetic to hand, to numb the pain of the weeks of mental torment ahead.

It's all there in the research. Half of adults in Ireland use alcohol as a way to cope with stress and worry, according to studies. Reports this week from retailers show alcohol sales are higher than they are at Christmas.

A survey by Kantar Media last weekend found high levels of anxiety around coronavirus in Ireland, with a third of people saying they fear for their health, even when following restrictions and guidelines. On a global scale, we're the only nation as concerned about it as the Chinese.

It's exhausting and it's chronic. There's no let-up, or light coming. All I seem to hear in the new silence of the inner-city is the sound of sirens. Death is everywhere. It's understandable people would feel the need for reprieve.

In my more dramatic moments, its shadows cast like Orpheus and Eurydice walking through the underworld; whatever you do, don't look back.

It's a stark reality - but when faced with not knowing what tomorrow will bring, those whose heads are hanging from worry are reaching for the alcoholic painkiller, reasoning: "To hell with it, I could be dead tomorrow."

Judgment and monitoring have gone out the window. Our baseline has been reduced to being thankful we're alive. Alcohol is escapism. And when we're all doing it, it's OK, isn't it?

This crisis has forced people to revert to type. That Family Guy sketch where Peter Griffin lands in Dublin Airport on a runway of discarded bottles seems particularly prescient today. But it's no laughing matter.

Like it or not, the Irish are a nation of drinkers. And so it seems we are content enough to stay at home - once we can drink away while we're there.

I realised the other day - it can't go on. This thing will be affecting our lives for the short-term future. Those two drinks a night add up over the course of a week, a month, six months. God knows what others are putting away, who might not have the responsibilities that put a halt to my gallop.

And it will end, as everything does. In a best-case scenario, we might emerge as the country whose compliance and care saved our citizens from the worst. But will we be a nation of deranged alcoholics?

We don't want to come out from a pandemic into an epidemic of liver disease.

Drink only gives the illusion of helping; over time, it makes things worse. It pretends to wash away our problems, but it only stores up new ones.

We can blur our way through the pain of this in a fog of alcohol, but the hangover will be immense.

For now, it's a case of Lord, make me pure - but not yet. But very soon, it will be time to throw away the crutch.

Sunday Independent