Coronavirus is no time for sobriety – a drink or two can make this crisis bearable

What we’re faced with right now is scary – and we need a way to collectively cope. So let’s have a drink – hell, let’s have two

Chris Owen
Friday 03 April 2020 11:36 BST
Alcohol is 'unhelpful coping strategy' for coronavirus lockdown says WHO

The recent suggestion that we turn lockdown into “Dry Covid” is pompous at best, ambulance-chasing at worst. There’s a time and place to judge other people’s behaviour – now is not it.

Ian Hamilton’s call to arms is ostensibly a response to the government categorising off-licenses as an essential service – although I’d argue this does not mean the government deems alcohol essential, but rather that it should be essential to offer it to those who want it. They sell Dairy Milk in off-licenses, but this doesn’t mean they too are essential.

Hamilton’s suggestion that being able to buy booze at a petrol station but not to drink and drive suggests an “incoherent” governmental to alcohol is itself incoherent. It suggests buyers feel compelled to drink what they’ve bought as they drive off. Presumably, there are swathes of brickwork next to hardware stores absolutely dripping with Dulux.

Yet more troubling than the illogicality of Hamilton’s argument are the psychological and sociological consequences of forcing the UK should spend lockdown in Mormonesque sobriety.

Before that horse bolts, it’s important to say I’m not disputing the facts around excessive alcohol consumption (mental illness, kidney and liver damage, among others). Nor am I dismissing the World Health Organisation’s advice that alcohol has a negative effect on immunity, something we certainly don’t want during a pandemic. But it’s just as important to appreciate that there’s a spectrum of alcohol use.

I know what addiction feels like (and, thankfully, how sobriety does; a whole decade of it so far). I’m public about my past, and this has opened up hundreds of conversations. Many of the people I speak to want to know whether going above the government limit on units makes them a soak. It doesn’t – not least because this limit has been shown by those who came up with it to be arbitrary. It means you are one of millions of Britons who relax with a pint, a glass of wine, a G&T.

Alcohol dependence and using alcohol to cope are different beasts. Having a drink to unwind at the end of the day – particularly given the circumstances – doesn’t make you an alcoholic. Shaming and stigmatising those who enjoy an occasional drink is likely to lead to more irresponsible drinking.

What we’re faced with right now is scary – and we need a way to collectively cope. So let’s have a drink – hell, let’s have two. A pandemic is not the moment to get on our high horses about one of the few things that make it more bearable.

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