Nearly one in five Australians wish they had drunk less alcohol during the COVID-19 lockdown, according to new survey data out today from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
The survey of 1,000 Australians aged 18-65 also found a similar number, nearly 20 per cent, want to reduce the amount of alcohol they’ve been consuming recently.
The release of the data comes as the Alcohol and Drug Foundation launches a new national health campaign – Break the Habit – revealing that it takes on average only around 66 days to form a habit – roughly the same amount of time many Australians spent in lockdown.
It’s a fact that most Aussies are unaware of, with the poll data showing that fewer than 10 per cent of Australians were able to accurately estimate how long on average it takes to form a new habit.
What did experts have to say?
Habit formation expert from the University of Melbourne, Professor Terry Bowles, said many of us may have picked up or formed new habits over the last few months without even realising it.
“The COVID-19 experience will have taught people different things, but for almost all of us, it has shown that we can quickly change our daily routines.”
“Routine behaviours which can have a profound impact on our lives do not take a long time to form. So, as restrictions are gradually lifted across Australia and we emerge from months of isolation, we have passed the threshold of time required to establish new habits.
“That means the things we have been doing during isolation that we maybe didn’t do before, such as increased levels of exercise or an earlier bedtime, will be easy to keep doing.
Similarly, if we started or expanded on unhelpful or unhealthy behaviours in isolation, such as increased alcohol consumption, we may find it hard to revert back to pre-isolation levels.”
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s new data shows that while 20 per cent of Australians consumed less alcohol during the lockdown, a concerning number increased the amount they were drinking.
At least 12 per cent of people drank every day during lockdown, and 1 in 10 said that, on average, they drank more than the recommended National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) draft guidelines to reduce the risks from drinking alcohol, consuming more than 10 standard drinks per week.
This increases the risk of alcohol-related injury and diseases like cancer.
The foundation’s Break the Habit campaign highlights that even small increases to the amount of alcohol you drink can become harder to shift over time.
The campaign video features a ‘creature’ representing the little habit of drinking more than usual that some Australians picked up during lockdown.
The campaign encourages people to consider their recent drinking patterns, helps them recognise any problem signs and what to do to turn them around.
Federal Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, welcomed the new campaign, which is funded by the Australian Government.
“The Break the Habit campaign has an important message in encouraging Australians to reflect on changes to their lifestyles in recent months, particularly around increased alcohol consumption,” Mr Hunt said.
“It’s more important than ever that we prioritise our health and wellbeing. The less alcohol people consume, the lower the risk of alcohol-related accidents, injuries, dependence and chronic illness, such as cancer.
Less alcohol can also help people feel less stressed or anxious, sleep better, lose weight, improve relationships and save money.”
Alcohol and Drug Foundation CEO, Dr Erin Lalor said that given how tough this year has been, it’s not surprising people have looked for different ways to cope, including increasing their alcohol consumption.
“The last few months have been incredibly hard for everyone, particularly for those who have lost work, social connectedness and especially for those who have lost loved ones.
We’ve all been trying our best under challenging, never-before-seen circumstances,” Dr Erin Lalor said.
“Enough time has passed for behaviours picked up in lockdown to become entrenched. Now is the time for Australians to reflect on their recent drinking, so that little habits developed over the past couple of months, don’t turn into a big problem in the future.
“The longer a habit is left to form, the harder it can become to change.
“If you want to reduce the amount of alcohol you’ve been drinking recently, you are not alone. Our new data shows overall, around one in five of us want to cut back.
“Half of the people who told us they drank more during this time said they want to reduce how much they’re drinking.
“The good news is there’s lots of practical support available right now on how to change behaviour. Even small steps such as introducing alcohol free days into your week, or having one less drink a day, can have a powerful impact.”
To find out how your drinking measures up, try out the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s quick and interactive Drinking Calculator.
For more information on the Break the Habit campaign, including advice on how to change behaviour and where to get support, visit here.
One family’s experience
Mum of three Casey Bennett, from Langwarrin (VIC), picked up a new habit during Victoria’s first lockdown. “I normally only have a glass of wine on the weekend, but when the first lockdown started, I noticed I started pouring a glass of wine with dinner on weekdays.
I told myself at first that it was a “reward” for getting through home-schooling three children aged under 10. Before I knew it, I was “rewarding” myself almost every evening. It was always just one glass, but it all adds up.
“One Wednesday evening, I went to pour my evening drink but there was no wine in the house. It was then I realised how much more alcohol I’d been going through than normal.
Since then I’ve made a conscious decision to go back to my usual routine of only having a drink on the weekends. Immediately my sleep improved and ironically I now have more energy to tackle home-schooling which was stressing me out in the first place.”