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Lockdown liver damage – a cautionary tale…

With recent Public Health England figures showing that record numbers of us are drinking at least 50 units of alcohol a week, Jo Chipcase shares with us her own experiences of lockdown drinking.

Written by High Life North
Published 08.01.2021

By Jo Chipchase

Before the first lockdown, I was largely a social drinker – generally partying at weekends while maintaining a sensible weekly routine. During the lockdown, however, this slipped into drinking daily on my own.

By the time we were told to stay at home, I was already stressed. My family had experienced a small house fire, my youngest son had been ill, and I’d recently recovered from a sprained ankle. It was clear that COVID was going to be long-haul.

I was locked down in a remote house, solely responsible for two teens, two horses, five dogs and a cat that birthed several kittens. Unfortunately, our closest friends, who might have formed a support bubble, were quarantined far away.

Looking back, I was clearly depressed. I would drink several glasses of wine a night, while arguing with people on Facebook. Occasionally, I drank gin, then wondered if the resulting hangover might be Covid symptoms.

Despite drinking, I could never sleep during lockdown. The doctor prescribed Xanax over the phone, without enquiring about my lifestyle habits. I later learned that Xanax – a benzodiazepine – is potentially dangerous when mixed with alcohol, as it prolongs the effects and can cause shallow breathing.

This unfortunate combo also results having conversations you cannot recall. In the morning, I would review my social media postings to see who I had offended.

I knew my behaviour wasn’t healthy, but it made time pass quicker. I found that cooking big meals also filled the day, and my stomach.

When the lockdown eventually ended, and the bars reopened, I felt compelled to socialise, meeting friends for food and drink.

By September, I had gained enough weight for people to ask if I was pregnant. The blacksmith said my horse might struggle to carry the extra kilos.

I considered that my “abdominal bloating” could be hormonal issues (I’m 48), so I requested a blood test. The night before the test, I drank wine for a friend’s birthday. The result showed that my hormones were fine, but I had elevated liver enzymes.

Although the doctor didn’t seem worried, and advised that I moderated my drinking, I Googled my result and was frightened. Elevated liver enzymes generally suggest that some liver damage is occurring. I immediately started a month’s total detox.

This was difficult at first, as there was little support in my social circle. On the second night, I turned up to meet friends, only to find them rolling around drunk and slurring “buy us a round – you can drink Aquarius”. I fled back home.

My detox – coinciding with Sober October – soon became easier, with inspiration from women’s sobriety groups on Facebook. After a week, I felt energetic and clear-minded. My belly was also shrinking.

At the month mark, I decided to ask the doctor for a retest, to see if there was any improvement. By then, I had quit the Xanax of my own accord. This time, just one reading (GGT) was over the normal range.

Three months later, I feel healthier, slimmer and more productive. Although I’ve not quit alcohol completely, I’m remaining within the recommended weekly limit for a woman. I’ve discovered that alcohol-free beer is a good choice, as is shandy.

In the current pandemic there are many triggers that could exacerbate alcohol misuse. Is it safe to meet our family and friends? Are we putting anyone at risk? Is it best to self-isolate with the mulled wine?  As our stress goes up, so can our alcohol consumption.

Based on my own experience, I urge women who have been drinking heavily to request a blood test. The road of excess could easily lead to liver disease – and who wants that?

Where to find help

British Liver Trust

Sober Sisters

Sober Inspired Pirates

Annie Grace’s sobriety resources

Hints for not boozing

  • Consider ordering alcohol free beer in the bar.
  • Take your own alcohol substitute to soirees to avoid being stuck with fizzy pop or water.
  • Instead of thinking about that refreshing first sip of wine, think about the hangover after you’ve downed a bottle or two.
  • If feeling tempted to binge, recall incidents when you’ve embarrassed yourself.
  • Amuse yourself by observing how other people behave when drunk.
  • Think how great you’ll feel tomorrow when your friends are hungover, and you feel fresh.
  • If you need an excuse for ordering soft drinks, say you’re on antibiotics.
  • Join sobriety forums to gain moral support.

Jo Chipchase grew up in Newcastle and her family home is in Northumberland.

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