This month, the ‘Lower My Drinking’ app has been launched for the residents of Cheshire and Merseyside. It is free to download for anyone who lives or works in the area.
The launch of the app is part of a new campaign from the NHS and local councils in Cheshire and Merseyside. The campaign aims to help local people to reduce drinking to the recommended limit of 14 units a week or less. This is of particular importance in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw a rise in harmful drinking and its consequences on people, communities and services.
Research from Alcohol Change UK indicates that 1 in 5 people (21%) have been drinking more often during lockdown, with frequent and daily drinkers further increasing the amount they drink. This matters as habits are formed quickly but can be hard to break. If people start drinking at risky levels now, not only do they face the risk of immediate harms (such as accidents, fires, arguments and conflict) but also the risk of their alcohol consumption rising over the medium to long term.
Alcohol’s effects on mental health are particularly concerning, as are those of tensions in household, especially for those with children. Even more worryingly, the 2020 Office for National Statistic (ONS) data showed the highest rate of alcohol deaths since records began.
Dr Paul Richardson, Deputy Divisional Medical Director at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said “It’s been a tough time for everyone and we know that the pandemic has resulted in some people drinking to higher levels. As things open up, now is the perfect time to make changes to drinking habits as routines change with more people returning to work and people now being able to see family and friends. It is the time to get our health back on track and feel better about ourselves as life slowly returns to normality.”
The app is an effective tool that helps individuals to set and achieve a drinking reduction goal. It allows people to track progress, identify their motivation for reducing their drinking as well as highlighting issues that could potentially cause someone to drink more than is healthy for them and gives a set of proven skills that can be used to address these.
As well as this, the platform gives feedback and guidance to the user, explaining side effects and the potential benefits of cutting down, including psychological, social, financial and physical. The app helps users create a plan for the future with practical ideas including ‘drink-free’ days.
The app is designed to help change how an individual thinks about alcohol and the role it plays in their life and can help the person anticipate situations that may tempt them to drink too much, and plan how they will limit their drinking when they get there. It can help the person replace drinking in a daily routine with positive activities that will feel good and to manage any impulses to drink at the wrong time or in the wrong place by using a mindfulness technique.
Lorna Smythe, 46, from St Helens knew she was drinking too much at the start of the first lockdown. “I’m unsure if COVID caused me to drink more but it certainly didn’t help. There were a lot of things to worry about at home.”
The mum of four has made changes to her drinking habits and says she can’t believe how good it feels. “I’m more positive and have been able to do more things. I’ve even started Boxercise twice a week! I’m getting fitter and I absolutely love it. I’m in a much better place.”
Talking about the Lower My Drinking app Lorna says “This phone app is a godsend. So much easier to tap information into the drink diary wherever you are, rather than looking for pen and paper. It’s good to look back and reflect on your drinking habits and then you can try and improve them. You can challenge yourself to drink less the following week. People think they don’t drink that much but when you actually start monitoring it a lot of people will realise how much they do drink! The scores may even shock you. Especially compared to the recommended limits. The information and support given by the app is invaluable.”
To support the campaign and download resources, visit our Trello Board here.
A report collating data on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm in England during the COVID-19 pandemic and comparing it to data from previous years can be read here.