Truth bomb: I drank too much during the COVID lockdown

Truth bomb: I drank too much during the COVID lockdown

Nikki Parkinson Health, Life 55 Comments

I’m sitting across from my GP. He’s the person, who six years ago listened, like really listened, to me for the first time about my life with Hashimotos. We’re a health partnership. He’s thorough. He doesn’t just write a script and tell me I should be feeling ok when I’m not.

I’m here for my routine appointment following a routine blood test. I have them about three-four times a year. We chat about the previous three months since COVID and how strange it’s been. He asks how I’ve coped and I say, “pretty well, all things considered”. Yes, my adrenals had copped a pounding in those early weeks of business survival and exhaustion followed but right then, in his surgery, I was feeling pretty good.

The blood test results told a different story. My liver was not feeling good at all. It was screaming at me and I hadn’t been listening.

Turns out I am a COVID statistic … one of the 20% who had been drinking more than usual during the lockdown. Not only did I laugh along with the memes as I mindlessly scrolled Instagram, it turns out I was living the memes, congratulating myself if I managed two alcohol-free days in a week. 🤦‍♀️

COVID drinking meme

What started as a way to punctuate the working-from-home day, a way to “lighten” the massive load I suddenly felt I was under, quickly became an (almost) daily drinking habit. I wasn’t bingeing every night but the one or two glasses of wine was more than my liver and body could handle. 

Linda – the affectionate name I christened my hardworking liver had had enough. And rightly so. You see, back in my early 20s she suffered when I got a particularly nasty strain of glandular fever … and she’s never really been the same since. Add in the subsequent thyroid condition of 20-plus years and now peri-menopause … well, Linda found herself limping through the COVID lockdown.

When my GP delivered the news that Linda was far from happy and matter-of-factly said, “don’t drink alcohol for the next three-four weeks and we’ll test again”, I nodded, partly in shock and partly in gratitude for someone telling me deep down what I knew I needed to hear.

That was more than five weeks ago. 

And Linda is still not 100%.

GAH.

I’m a COVID drinking statistic

Why am I sharing this when it could open me up to ridicule at best; trolling at worst? (you may not be surprised to hear that the Internet is not all sh*&ts and giggles at the moment!)

I’m sharing because if I’m a part of this COVID statistic, I know I’m not alone. Most people just don’t have a “failed” blood test to prove it.

This blog is also a space where I’ve made no secret of my love of a Champagne, gin or an espresso martini. My love is still there. It runs deep. Those drinks just don’t love me – or Linda – right now. I’m being honest with myself and I need to be honest with you too.

I’m also sharing my experience because I’m human. I’m just another woman trying to press pause or stop a drinking habit – something that’s not necessarily easy.

Physically, I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult (I didn’t suffer any withdrawal symptoms). Mentally, however, it’s been a challenge to deal with the disappointment and loss of not socialising like I’d previously socialised – even if said socialising was simply enjoying a wine with my husband at home.

What helped me?

✔️  When someone tells me to follow a rule, I generally do. That helped. 

✔️  I’m an “all in” kind of person. If I’m going to commit to something, I generally do. That helped.

✔️  I’m someone who’s easily distracted, think binge-watching a TV series as a nightly treat. That helped.

✔️  I managed to convince my husband that if my liver was shot, there was a fair chance his was too and he joined me, abstaining for the first two of the weeks. That helped.

✔️  I’m a researcher from way back. The journalist in me took a deep dive into finding alcohol-free alternatives to put in a “nice” glass. That really helped.

Truth bomb: I drank too much during the COVID lockdown

Spoiler alert: there’s alcohol-free wine in that glass

Are alcohol-free alternatives for you?

This is what I’ve had the most questions about since talking to friends and family about my abstinence. I know alcohol alternatives are not for everyone – and can be as triggering as alcohol for some. My friend Shanna from Sober in the Country opened my eyes to this. Read more about this HERE.

I also know they may not be for everyone because I was one of those people who previously thought “why bother?” when it came to drinking a beverage that provided the taste of alcohol without the alcohol. Just have sparkling water and a slice of lime, I thought.

Turns out I bother a lot – and too much sparkling water becomes pretty boring over the course of a nice dinner out.

The discovery of good alcohol-free alternatives was something that helped me get through my first Friday night, my first weekend and my first holiday without alcohol. These situations are triggers for my love of booze. They’re the times I associate with “rewarding” myself for working hard, for getting through the week, for getting through many weeks. 

By finding good alcohol-free substitutes, I was able to enjoy the social-ness of those times without a part of my brain thinking I was missing out. It was mind trickery really but it worked. For me.

Around the same time as my elevated liver enzymes diagnosis, I was scrolling Instagram and came across my friend Sarah Connelly’s story on her new-ish Instagram account, @sober_sommelier. I’d already made a few online alcohol-free or “AF” purchases but I’ve since discovered more gems thanks to Sarah, through her blog and a recent meet-up.


AF drinks I recommend

This is far from an extensive list but these have been great discoveries for me. They’ve enabled me to continue the “ceremony” part of what was my social alcohol habit – something that I realised was a big part of why I would have a drink.

I’ve bought either online direct from the makers, Dan Murphys, The Local Larder or Craft Zero.

Brunswick Aces: this is a Melbourne distillery that also makes alcohol-free gin. I like both varieties available and have just been adding soda water and a slice of lime to them so as to better taste the botanticals.

Lyre’s crafted non-alcoholic spirits: my pick is the Italian Spritz. Just add soda water and a slice of orange and it could be the real thing … and you could be on the Amalfi Coast. Well maybe not that bit because of travel bans and all that.

Richard Juhlin Blanc De Blancs: I was served this French sparkling (pictured below) at the @sober_sommelier meet-up at The Local Larder in Ashgrove and it’s become a staple in my fridge. It really does taste, if not like the real deal, then close enough for me.

Maggie Beer Sparkling Ruby Cabernet: This was a surprise and the convenience of the piccolo bottle was perfect for a Friday afternoon treat. 

Domaine de la Prade organic Merlot/Shiraz: I love a red wine in winter and this one and the cab sav below are now faves. There is a sweeter finish to the palette but it’s not overly so as to ruin the experience completely.

Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon: this is a little heavier but still a great steak accompaniment at any time of year.

Domaine de la Prade Chardonnay: I know Chardonnays in general are having their time in the sun again and I am really enjoying this AF alternative.

Natureo .5% low alcohol Rose: Regular Rose and I don’t often get along but stack this one with ice in a big wine glass and it’s very much an all-dayer!

Beers: I don’t drink beer on account of gluten but the husband did give his tick of approval to Peroni Libera and Moritz non-alcoholic beer.  Also checkout Gold Coast craft AF brewery Sobah.

My fave alcohol-free wine: Richard Juhlin Blanc De Blancs

AF drink options in restaurants

Australian restaurants typically offer sickly sweet cocktails or nothing at all on their wine lists but that’s slowly changing. Can you believe in London there are whole bars dedicated to AF drinks?

Live in Sydney, check out this article. Melbourne, read this.

In Brisbane, check out previously mentioned The Local Larder, where you’ll find a great selection

If you know of other restaurants offering AF selections, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.


What now for me?

I’m still under my GP’s orders to stay mostly alcohol-free. The enzyme levels have improved but one of them is still outside of the range it should be. So, this is my life, for the foreseeable future and/or forever. I really don’t know.

My initial aim was to break the COVID habit and let my liver recover. When we achieve that, Linda and I will come to a new mutual, long-term suitable arrangement with my GP. I’m not sure what that looks like as yet but I know I’m in a better head space to make good health decisions. 

I truly do believe good health is key to living a great life. While I may not have been drinking at excessive levels when compared with others, they were excessive for me.

Please remember, like any time I write about any aspects concerning my health, it’s not meant as guidance for YOUR health. It’s a sharing of my experience. Please do chat to your GP if you’re ever concerned about any niggling physical or mental issue you might have. It’s always your best first step. If anything I’ve written about has triggered anything for you in relation to alcohol, please seek out support via one of the agencies listed HERE.

Comments 55

  1. I confess I haven’t been for a blood test that the doctor recommended two years ago because in my heart I knew the result would be the same as yours. And I had the same quarantine / early lockdown drinking habits as you. Thankfully now I have cut right back and actually don’t feel much like alcohol anymore. I am sleeping much better, and soon I’ll feel brave enough to go for that blood test!

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  2. I gave up alcohol a few years ago, apart from the occasional cocktail when on holidays – though I mostly stick to the mocktails these days (usually a virgin mojito/nojito).
    Auto-immune (Hashi’s) on top of a bunch of meds for chronic pain and peri-menopause had me flaking out, getting an instant hot flush and very unattractive sweats every time I had a tipple. It just wasn’t worth it as it would completely negate any enjoyment from the occasion.
    We bought a Sodastream and I add lemon or lime and mint to my fizzy water. I’ve also been drinking a lot of the Twinings cold water infusions. I was previously a cider drinker more than wine and I will occasionally grab a 6 pack of The Hills Cider Company’s Virgin Apple Cider if we’re going to a byo function, as I feel like I’m enjoying a drink and no one is any the wiser that it’s AF.

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  3. There is a non alcoholic sparkling made in Canberra called Altina which sells online. Also the Dr Strangelove local soft drinks and mixers are good. They have some interesting flavours like Yuzu, Mandarin and Cloudy Pear. Available at Dan Murphy I think

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  4. Hi Nikki
    Thank you for sharing. I can keep my consumption down to 2 a day but also need to cut that out for health reasons. Fake wines do not cut it for me because they have sugar. Will just admire a nice glass with my water and lime.
    Best wishes

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  5. Ah well, great to read this Nikki, and how lovely that you know Sarah, I also met her through Instagram after reading her story in Mindfood. I stopped drinking altogether last year, planned to have a month off but I felt so good, I knew it was all over for me, I also read some of the books Sarah has on her website and they made a huge amount of sense for me. (I am @happysoberdrinker on Insta and my lockdown project was learning how to create a Kindle ebook and popping one up! A girl needs a hobby.) I feel SO much better not drinking, my mental health and life coping skills are much improved. It is fab that you have shared your own story and also shared great info on the explosion of alcohol-free options out there. Things were so different in 2013 when I took a year off. Anyway, best wishes and here’s to your liver getting back to normal ASAP.

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      Hi Seana – congrats to you! I’m glad you’re feeling so much better from not drinking. I’m still to reach that feeling yet. Linda is giving me a run for my money – but I can’t wait!

  6. Congrats Nikki. Your story could be me. My alcohol intake became stupid during lockdown.
    We have cut down enormously but you have inspired me more.
    I too am menopausal and no alcohol = no night sweats and great sleep.
    I have done 6 months alcohol free in the past and I am so impressed with your list. It has definitely become easier to be alcohol free. Seedlip ( available through Dan Murphys) and Kombucha are great alternatives that have worked for me. Just be careful with Kombucha as it has a little bit of caffeine . Too much would keep me awake at night.

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  7. Hi Nikki,

    Can so relate to this. I recently went AF for 6 weeks post COVID and am about to do the same again as already I’m feeling ‘Blah’ again, and it’s only been 2 weeks. A drink I use as in the evening when I am preparing dinner, swapping out a bad habit and replacing it with a good one is Kultured Wellness’s Fermented Apple Juice. It tastes like an Apple Cider but because you ferment the Apple Juice all the sugar is eaten up by the fermentation process and the culture used gives it awesome bacteria so your also building a healthy gut as well. Highly recommend. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the inspo for getting my head back out of the trough, so to speak.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your story. A fairly new addition to the non alcoholic drink choice is from NON. A young Aussie guy and his partner have started this company and I believe their drinks are delicious. I haven’t tried them but friends have. I am not connected with this product but I think it offers something really different for those times when your want no alcohol. https://www.non.world/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIpqvzpbvQ6gIVyFBgCh0BoA-0EAAYASAAEgIoofD_BwE

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  9. Thank you for sharing. I completely resonated with it. I have been AF for nearly 1 month after quite a long time of thinking that perhaps alcohol wasn’t serving me or my health goals. I have PCOS that I need to continually work on managing. COVID didn’t help. I haven’t yet dived into the alternatives but have been researching so thanks for sharing your recommendations. I have tried the etch sparkling which I enjoy. I have loved following you on Instagram and admire your approach to life and style. I had noticed in recent posts lack of pictures with a wine glass and even seeing a cup of tea and I wondered if you had gone AF. Sorry to hear your health triggered the change but it actually was encouraging to me to see someone I admire show life without alcohol even for a period. Thank you for being so willing to share your story and encourage women to do what they need to do to prioritise their health. You are amazing ❤️

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  10. Thankyou for your honest and clear calling this out. Hubby and I noticed our alcohol intake skyrocket as we would “congratulate” ourselves nightly on successful remote learning with our two boys.
    With the increase in alcohol purchases I called enough. No tests yet but I just immediately replaced all my alcohol with yummy herbal teas. I also reduced my chocolate intake as I was celebrating with that too.
    Now we are celebrating better health, better sleep, clearer skin and weight reduction.
    The scary thing is when you aren’t drinking you truly notice how much of a crutch it is for so many (particularly mums I’ve noticed) and how much socializing revolves around alcohol.
    I’m not missing it a bit. Though we are still in lockdown so haven’t had social events to feel awkward at yet.

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      Hooray Kristie. I’m with you on those “congratulatory” crutches. I’ve been through quite a few social situations now and just knowing I have options has been helpful for me.

  11. Wow this could have been written about me. I got the same result from my blood test. During lockdown every night was Friday night. I was shocked at how quickly 1 became 2 became 3 drinks every day. And we weren’t really under stress (kids adjusted easily to lockdown and husband can work from home). Now I’m 5 AF nights a week. I have in the past struggled to have even 1 AF night a week. Thanks for your honesty.

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  12. Thanks for sharing Nikki. I never thought about having a substitute non alcohol beverage so you have opened my eyes. Love that you are so honest and well done

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  13. Wow! Thanks, Nikki. firstly good on you and good luck and secondly thanks so much for the list! I am always the designated driver, so never get to drink and anyway am so fussy that I usually leave a couple of glasses with one Sip taken out of them when we go out anywhere. My friends know that I do mean “just a drop” when I say it. So – basically for totally different reasons, your list could be an awesome alternative to just drinking tap water everywhere (I don’t like soft drinks either).
    I am in Perth, so can try and find some alternatives here as well for you if you wish. What a great idea. We are hitting the wine country trail for a weekend with friends, so I can ask there…
    I have been a blog subscriber for years and love your information. Your journalism background enriches and elevates your articles. Well done!

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  14. Oh Nikki, I am going to take notes from this post. We went in hard during the first few weeks of lockdown (for us) then I had a Moment at the start of May and announced I was back on the health-aware track. Am trying to keep away from the grog 6 nights out of 7 – though school hols have seen that thrown way out.
    I had to keep remembering what your AF was standing for as I read along – and it was raising a chuckle.
    Keep up the good work and I hope Linda stays under control!

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      Thanks so much Mary – it was a very strange time indeed! And yes, I had to laugh about the AF bit too – it’s the lingo for Alcohol Free and quite funny when you think about it!

  15. You are such an inspiration .Nikki. My walking friend and I were only talking about “ cutting back” on alcohol this morning ..( we try to stay dry mid week) , our livers are older than Linda . I mentioned that I was having trouble finding satisfying alternatives. Your list is copied and ready to go . Thank you so much for sharing . Your honesty is refreshing . Di ( from your old stomping ground – Nambour) Stay true – it’s “beauty on the inside” .

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  16. I find lemon tasting kombucha with slices of lime/ lemon, crushed fresh mint and even fresh ginger make me feel like I am having a delectable gin cocktail and takes away that feeling of being deprived. I too overindulged in alcohol while in isolation and subsequently gained weight. I am fairly sure my liver wasn’t impressed with me either, not to mention I suffered from disturbed sleep pattens and just feeling blah in general.. So I am now aiming for at least 5 – 6 alcohol free days from now on. I started a week ago. I really do feel so much better for it and found it easier than I thought it would be, especially with my healthy alcohol free concoction I have created to reward myself at the end of the day. Thanks for wearing your heart out on your sleeve and bringing this issue out into the open for discussion. An alcohol free ‘cheers’ to you and to all
    the sisterhood. X

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      Hi Michelle, I LOVE the sound of your treat drink. I love kombucha and I’m going to do this!! I’m definitely sleeping better – it’s taken quite a few weeks though to not wake up like I’ve had a wine the night before! The 2ams can still happen (menopause) but fewer sweats. “Cheers” to you x

  17. Same thing happened to me Nikki! I’m 49 and was smashed with work during March and April and because I was at home I was working 16 hour days 7 days a week with little sleep or exercise. I’d have a few white wine spritzers every other night and thought it was okay because they weren’t full strength and, you know, COVID!!. Got a rude shock when I had routine bloods in May that showed slightly elevated GGT and my GP said it’s probably alcohol or fatty liver (or both). I told her I was barely drinking anything compared to other people I know and she said everyone metabolises alcohol differently and even the small increase in what I normally drink could have been enough to raise my levels. I’ve been on the straight and narrow ever since. Lots of green smoothies and veggie soups. No alcohol and lots of water. I’m hoping the bloods are better next month. Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope your bloods continue to improve too.

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      Hi Jane, I’m so glad I’m not alone. Your GP is so right to point out that one person’s excess is so different from the next. Glad you’re feeling fabulous now. Mine are on the improve – one’s just not where it should be. I’ll get there!!

  18. As a young-ish 70 with my own auto immune story I can tell you for certain that nothing comes easy or free. However despite and inspite of our efforts and what is currently happening in the world and in our own backyards life is good. You are good Nikki. You have just stalled. Be content to nestle and coast along with any and all the help and support that is offered.
    Thank you for being open and sharing your story.

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  19. Thanks for the candour. As someone who grew up in an alcohol free house and drinks very little as an adult I have little to offer but I think what you day is so important. A drink I really enjoy is Seedlip Spice and tonic water. If you love a G&T this hits the spot. Please keep being open about the impacts of our cultures deep reliance on alcohol. We need to keep challenging our cultural norms for the sake of our health and our society.

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      1. I also love Seedlip (Citrus) and tonic, and am loving the Lyre’s Dry London Spirit with tonic! I have the Italian Spritz for a pseudo Aperol next….

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  20. This really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing all the tips and your story. I’m better at all out which I can get into the swing of, than one glass of wine (that just made me sad) but I might give these alternatives a serious try. It’s such a part of Aussie culture, it’s worth tweaking to make our livers and a whole lot else, happy. Good on you Nikki. Hope Linda gets happy soon.

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      So glad it resonated with you … it really does help to understand if you’re in all out or “just one”. I’m all out for now but hoping that I can work the “just one” in the future (did you hear that Linda?)!

  21. I also overindulged in the first lockdown. When it was over I decided to look for some alcohol free alternatives. I have found the Edenvale Chardonnay that is available at Coles and Woolworths to be enjoyable. Now that we are in Lockdown 2.0 I am trying to be more mindful of how much I drink and have many alcohol free days during the week.

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  22. thank you, Nik, for referencing us …. and this is such an important piece – you’re doing an amazing thing by sharing the truth and addressing your health. SO much respect for you !! Much love – Shanna and the Sober in the Country Tribe xxxx

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  23. Wow! Well done, Nikki. I know how hard it is, not to give up the alcohol per se, but the whole experience of sitting with a nice glass and getting just a little mellow.
    Thankyou for the list, as I too, have had to curb my one or two glasses after my heart operation,
    and like you I find Tonic water and Soda water rather boring after a while. I have tried Kombucha which I rather like but am definitely going to copy your list. Thankyou for your honesty and sharing
    your experience with us.
    I hope “Linda” is recovering and that you can occasionally enjoy a champagne.

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