Managing drinking at home

Dr Luke Powles
Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
06 May 2020
Next review due May 2023

As social restrictions continue, feelings of stress, anxiety or even boredom may mean you’re drinking more alcohol than usual.

It’s common knowledge that drinking too much is bad for us. There are well-established links between alcohol and problems with your heart, liver and digestive system, and the increased risk of cancer and mental health problems. This probably isn’t news to you. But now that pubs and restaurants are closed, it’s easy to be clocking up more units than you think if you’re drinking at home.

Here, I’ll give some tips on monitoring and regulating the amount of alcohol you drink at home.

Am I drinking too much?

Do you find yourself regularly reaching for the bottle, or is drinking becoming part of your daily routine? The current UK guidelines for low-risk drinking advise ‘several drink-free days each week’. So, in this context, I’d define ‘regular drinking’ as someone who drinks on four or more days per week, drinking any amount of alcohol.

We’re also advised not to drink more than 14 units per week. This is the same for men and women. But do you know what 14 units actually looks like? You don’t necessarily need to be getting drunk or waking up with a hangover to be drinking too much. It’s quite easy to drink more than the recommended amount, without even realising.

The size and alcohol strength of your chosen drink determines how many units you consume. Here are some examples:

  • 175ml glass of wine (12.5% ABV) = 2.2 units
  • 250ml glass of wine (14% ABV) = 3.5 units
  • One pint of 4% beer = 2.4 units
  • One 25ml measure of a spirit (40%) = 1 unit

The biggest issue with drinking at home is that you don’t usually measure your drinks. Pouring freehand from the bottle and having it readily available in the fridge means you’ll likely be drinking far more than recommended.

Alcohol Change UK have a handy Unit Calculator to help you work out how much you drink.

Bupa's units of alcohol in a drink PDF opens in a new window (1.3 MB)

Bupa's units of alcohol in a drink

Why am I drinking more during lockdown?

Some people might be drinking less, with pubs and restaurants currently closed and social gatherings restricted. But for many, there’s a temptation to drink more while at home. Reasons why may include:

  • using it as a way to relax and reduce stress or anxiety
  • to take your mind off the constant stream of media surrounding COVID-19
  • to unwind after a day working, home schooling or caring for children
  • lack of routine
  • struggling relationships at home
  • being bored or unstimulated
  • feeling lonely because you’re isolating alone
  • feeling depressed and hopeless
  • grieving for a lost one

Ways to drink less at home

Below are some ways to manage how much alcohol you drink and cut back if you’re consuming too much.

Keep track

Take time to note down exactly what you’re drinking, measured in units. This will mean measuring out your drinks properly, which may feel a bit odd at home, but it’s the only way you’ll keep track properly.

This will give you a clear picture of how you’re doing compared with the recommended limits. You may find an app like ‘Drink Free Days’ helps you to do this.

Also, don’t let a partner or family member ‘top you up’ as this will make it harder to track what you’re drinking.

Remove temptation

A readily stocked drinks cupboard or fridge will only provide temptation to drink. Only buy alcohol in small amounts, so you’re not tempted to drink more than you should. For example, buy beer bottles separately, instead of a box.

Spread your units across the week

Don’t save all your units for one night. Have one or two drinks over three or four days, spread evenly across the week. Your week could look like this.

  • Tuesday: two bottles of beer (5% ABV) in the evening
  • Friday: two 175ml glasses of wine (12.5% ABV) with dinner
  • Sunday: two gin and tonics (25ml shots)

This equals 9.6 units, well within the 14-unit limit.

Invest in a wine preserver

How many times have you had that extra glass just to finish off the bottle before it turns? Fortunately, there are a range of gadgets on the market that can keep your wine fresh for a few days after you’ve uncorked it. This will help you spread out a bottle of wine over a week.

Change your routine

If you’re in the habit of drinking every evening, perhaps with dinner or when the children are finally in bed, you may need to break this association. Try to form new routines. Use exercise to distract yourself. You could save your daily exercise for the time you’re usually tempted to drink and head out for a jog or brisk walk or do some yoga.

Find new ways to treat yourself

When you feel like reaching for the bottle, try to unwind or de-stress a different way. Have a relaxing bath, call a friend for a catch up or get stuck into cooking a new dish.

Try non-alcoholic alternatives

There are plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives on the market, from non-alcoholic beer to alcohol-free gin. Mocktails are great as they feel like a treat and taste delicious!

Choose the weakest options

Make a habit of choosing the lowest ABV options of whatever you drink. Go for 11% wine and lighter beers, and watch out for ‘export strength’ spirits, which in some cases can be stronger by 10% ABV!

Concerned about yours or a family member’s drinking?

If you’re drinking too much and it’s becoming a habit, seek support. Or perhaps you’re a recovering alcoholic and you’re finding this time a particular struggle. Maybe someone you’re living with has become dependent on alcohol.

Don’t suffer in silence at home or let a drinking habit spiral out of control. Your GP is a good place to start, and you can (in most cases) request a telephone appointment, avoiding the need to travel to the surgery. There are also many support services available, including:

Also, the risk of domestic abuse is higher at this time, with people urged to stay at home and perhaps fuelled by alcohol. Domestic abuse is never OK, and there are safety and support services available if this is affecting you or someone you know.

Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK

    • Alcohol – problem drinking. What are the complications?, last revised February 2018
    • UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. GOV.UK., published August 2016
    • What is an alcohol unit? Drinkaware., accessed 3 May 2020
    • COVID-19: alcohol. Royal College of Psychiatrists., published April 2020
    • Unit calculator. Alcohol Change UK., accessed 3 May 2020
    • Coronavirus: top tips on alcohol and mental health. Alcohol Change UK., accessed 3 May 2020
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19): support for victims of domestic abuse. GOV.UK., updated 14 April 2020

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