13th October, 2021 — Alcohol

Talking to a mate about COVID drinking

The lockdowns in various states and territories across Australia have been difficult for many of us. 

Not being able to see family is tough, but we have also missed hanging out and socialising with friends.

Increased feelings of stress, anxiety, and social isolation are very normal during this time, and knowing how to manage these emotions is a challenge.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a number of population surveys have found some Australians have increased their alcohol consumption to manage these feelings.1-3

This is a very human way to respond during stressful times,1,4,5 but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned if your friends are drinking more. 

We also know that men in particular are less likely to seek help for their mental well-being,6 so it might feel difficult to approach a male friend about the subject.

So, if you’re worried about a mate who might be using alcohol to cope with COVID, we’re here to help you have a chat with them. 

Know the signs

Before talking with your mate, it’s important to think about why you’re concerned. 

In what way has their behaviour changed?

Have they told you they have been drinking more? Are friends or family concerned? Are there other things going on for them relating to mental health, money troubles, difficulty with work or other responsibilities, or maybe arguments with their partner or family?7

You might pick up these cues from them during a catch up in person, or in your chats over messages, phone or video calls.

Find a good time to talk

Once you feel confident you’ve recognised the worrying signs – choose a good time to have your chat. 

This may mean you don’t call them at 5pm if they have kids, or if you know they’re tied up in Zoom work meetings or out on a worksite. You also want to make sure your mate isn’t intoxicated at the time.

Finding a time to talk in person might be more difficult depending on your state or territory’s current restrictions, but you can just have a chat with them over the phone or via text/messenger. Go with whatever you are most comfortable with.

Be supportive

When having conversations with mates about drinking, avoid coming across as judgmental, lecturing or accusatory – there's a good chance they’ll stop listening or not take you seriously.

You can start the convo by mentioning alcohol, but the focus should be about their well-being.8,9

This could be something along the lines of: “You’ve been telling me recently you’ve been drinking most nights, is everything all good with you?”

It might also help to have some knowledge around how alcohol and mental health are related, which you can read about here.

Listen from their perspective

Be interested, ask questions and listen. 

Let what they’re thinking and feeling lead the conversation. And ask open-ended questions to help them tell things from their point of view.9

Offer options for support, but don’t force it on them

If your mate wants some extra help, there’s a number of support options you can suggest:

  • National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline - 1800 250 015
    This number will link you to the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) in your state or territory. It’s a confidential telephone counselling, information and referral service that can provide brief counselling sessions and referrals to treatment and support.
  • Counselling Online - www.counsellingonline.org.au
    Free and confidential webchat service which provides 24/7 support to people across Australia affected by alcohol or drug use.

For mental health-specific services:

Free 24-hour crisis line to support Aboriginal men experiencing issues relating to relationships, family violence, drug and alcohol or COVID-19 related stress.

  • MensLine 1300 78 99 78
    Free professional 24/7 telephone counselling support for men with concerns about mental health, anger management, family violence, addiction, relationships, stress and wellbeing.

Your mate might want to have a go at cutting back drinking on their own. An alcohol diary can be really useful to support this. If they’ve been drinking heavily for a while, they might want to consult a doctor first as suddenly stopping can lead to very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms

If they’re not interested in getting any support, let them know you’re there if they change their mind or ever want to chat.

Sometimes the best support is to just be there for them until they’re ready to take that step. 

Originally published on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.

  1. Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education (FARE). Alcohol use and Harm During Covid-19. 2020.
  2. Australian National University. Alcohol consumption increases during COVID-19 crisis; 2020 [updated June 10; cited 2020 June 12]. 
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, 14-17 Apr 2020 Docklands: ABS; 2020 [14 May 2020]. 
  4. Keyes KM, Hatzenbuehler ML, Hasin DS. Stressful life experiences, alcohol consumption, and alcohol use disorders: the epidemiologic evidence for four main types of stressors. Psychopharmacology. 2011;218(1):1-17.
  5. de Goeij MCM, Suhrcke M, Toffolutti V, van de Mheen D, Schoenmakers TM, Kunst AE. How economic crises affect alcohol consumption and alcohol-related health problems: A realist systematic review. Social Science & Medicine. 2015;131:131-46.
  6. MensLine Australia. Alcohol and mental health  [04.10.2021]. 
  7. Turning Point. Help for Clients and Families  [cited 2021 September 15]. 
  8. Positive Choices. How to help a friend or family member with their drug or alcohol use [updated 13 September 2021; cited 2021 13 September]. 
  9. Breakthrough for Families Queensland. Concerned about a family member’s substance use? Get the facts, develop strategies and find out where to access more help. Queensland government.

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