Responding to queries, IMH’s National Addictions Management Service (Nams) said that it has not seen any significant increase in alcohol addiction cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, Dr Desmond Wai, a liver and gastrointestinal diseases specialist at a private hospital, said that he has been seeing more alcoholism cases since the circuit breaker period between April to June last year. On average, there has been one new case every month since.
These cases tend to be pre-existing alcoholics who have been drinking more as they had little social interaction with friends and less social support to help curb their drinking.
Dr Wai noted that the effects of alcohol on the liver takes several years to manifest and it would be hard to deduce whether alcoholism has been on the rise during the COVID-19 crisis. “For us to find out if alcoholic abuse is more or less prevalent during the pandemic would require a similar population study,” he said.
DANGERS OF DRINKING ALONE
Those who started drinking more frequently during the pandemic spoke of how the absence of social drinking with friends led them to drinking alone at home and over time, it became a habit.
When Alex (not his real name) was at university, he did most of his drinking at pubs with friends once or twice a week.
But once the 26-year-old started work at an investment bank last year, he found himself drinking much more than before.
He joined the bank in the midst of the pandemic, while its employees were working from home. Because of that, his drinking sessions now take place at home, sometimes in the middle of the work day.
The drinking, he said, is to cope with the stress of working in a high-stakes environment where a normal day can end at 3am.
“For three months, I worked almost all weekends because there were too few juniors around to share the workload. It’s never-ending work,” said Alex.
“And Covid-19 exacerbated everything. To my superiors who are giving out work, you are just another name on (video-conference platform) Skype and if they see you online, you get work. The humanisation aspect just isn’t there.”
Every two to three days, he drinks about six cans of Japanese lemon sour cocktails that he gets from a convenience store. These sochu-based drinks can have as high as 9 per cent alcohol by volume.
John, 26, similarly developed a habit of regular drinking as the pandemic raged. In the past, drinking was always done in the company of friends and he would rarely drink while on his own.
Out of boredom while being cooped up at home during the circuit breaker period, the then fresh university graduate started drinking at home — about 12 standard drinks a week — to pass the time.
It became a routine when he started work as a public servant in July last year and he now drinks about four times a week — a bottle of beer on weekdays and up to three on Fridays and weekends.
“It’s how I unwind at night, after work and exercise, by watching shows and drinking beer. I’d much rather hang out with friends instead of drinking, but it’s hard because of the COVID-19 restrictions,” said John, who declined to give his full name.
Although drinking has become a habit for John, he maintains that he is not overusing alcohol and reckons that his new routine is less unhealthy than when he was binge drinking in university, when he would sometimes get blackout drunk.
John said he would get his alcohol delivered to his home from duty-free store iShopChangi, which offers a variety of international brands on its website.
“I’ve taken a liking to trying different beers so drinking has also become like a mini-hobby to me,” he said.