My dad always liked a drink, and would have a couple of beers down the pub with his mates or a drink at home after work.
But when he drank whisky, we would worry about him because his mood would change for the worse and all his insecurities would rise to the surface. He’d lash out and say he wasn’t happy with his life.
He was made redundant when I was 12 years old, having worked the same job in the motor industry for 20 years. That was when he started self-medicating with alcohol.
Feeling isolated fuelled my dad’s drinking, which is why I’m concerned about the effect a second lockdown will have on drinking habits. Whether they’re dealing with unemployment, grief, or loneliness, I’m worried about people turning to alcohol to cope.
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Although he mostly kept his feelings to himself, my dad sometimes told us that he drank because he was bored – he was on his own for most of the day, until I came home from school or my mum would get back from work.
He would drink from the early evening onwards, sitting in front of the TV and pouring himself as many whisky and ginger ales he could fit in before dinner. He always seemed anxious about everything, and he would drink to relax and forget about his worries.
After six months, he got a job in insurance, but he couldn’t escape the grips of the drinking habit he’d picked up while he’d been unemployed. I expected to see a glass in his hand not long after he stepped through the front door from work.
Sometimes I hid his bottle to try and stop him from drinking, but the screaming matches wore me down. Over time, his body tolerated higher alcohol levels, so he had to drink more to get that good-feeling effect.
His behaviour changed as his mental health got worse. I feel like he had undiagnosed issues, but that alcohol pushed them to the forefront.
He would argue with my mum over trivial things, like what we were having for dinner. His anxiety rocketed, and he would panic over small problems that arose in the house, like when our washing machine broke. He was very cold towards us, telling us to get out of his way and asking what we were looking at.
‘Don’t tell anyone about my drinking or I’ll lose my job!’ My dad’s warning would ring in my ears many times before I left for school. With the weight of his problem on my shoulders, I was quiet and found it hard to make friends. It emotionally drained me and my mum.
During the last few years of his life, he drank before I got up in the morning. He would wash his cornflakes down with whisky before heading to work. By that point, it was as normal to him as someone getting their coffee fix. His body screamed for the next drink.
At his worst, my dad got through more than a bottle of expensive single malt whisky in a day, regardless of whether he was working
He was off work a lot and, so that he could receive sick pay, he had to visit the doctor regularly. He also attended group sessions, but none of this curbed his drinking.
It might have been male pride or because he didn’t want to be seen as a failure, but he wouldn’t talk seriously about why he abused alcohol. He would evade our questions and downplay his fondness of having a drink, lying to himself and to us, too.
During the last few months of his life, he became reclusive and only went out to go food shopping and to get more alcohol, but he was wasn’t able to drive most of the time due to how much alcohol was in his system.
He was seriously dehydrated and very weak, because he wasn’t drinking water and hardly eating. He also wasn’t sleeping properly and suffered with psoriasis.
Aged 58, my dad sadly died of alcohol poisoning. He was on sick leave when he passed away.
Afterwards, I felt a release. His drinking problem wasn’t a secret I had to keep hidden any longer.
It’s clear that the pandemic has changed many people’s drinking habits. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the number of Brits drinking ‘high-risk’ amounts of alcohol jumped from an estimated 4.8million people in February, to 8.4million four months later after the country had gone into lockdown.
And recently, the Commission on Alcohol Harm called on the Government to tackle the ‘hidden health crisis’ caused by excessive drinking, which they say has been made more urgent by the pandemic.
Problems include harmful drinking levels caused by bereavement, being made redundant, and relationship difficulties, as well as a lack of support and access for addicts and their loved ones.
And now, with England in a second lockdown, other areas of the UK under tight restrictions, as well as the short days and bad weather that come with winter, people may turn to alcohol to comfort themselves. These changes in habits will be difficult to reverse in the long term and are a slippery slope to alcohol dependency.
There needs to be greater awareness of the services people and their families can turn to for help before their alcohol habit gets out of control – whether that be via a website printed on the side of a wine bottle or a TV advert. If a spokesperson from a charity such as Al-Anon had visited my school, I would have known that help was out there.
However, there isn’t sufficient funding and provision of these services – some addicts and their loved ones even lost access to vital recovery services during the last lockdown. I also fear that proposals from the Commission to increase the cost of alcohol will hit poorer families living with alcohol dependency the hardest.
At his worst, my dad got through more than a bottle of expensive single malt whisky in a day, regardless of whether he was working. Hiking the price won’t deter problem drinkers but only serve to make home life even more miserable and toxic for families affected by alcohol dependency.
I count myself lucky that I have a healthy relationship with drinking and am more of a social drinker. Seeing how alcohol addiction destroyed my dad’s life has made me determined to never use it as a coping mechanism.
If you feel like your drinking habits have changed during lockdown for the worse, then tell someone what you are going through and reach out to your doctor for help. Alcohol addiction is an illness, not a personal weakness, and needs to be treated.
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