Alcohol excess in times of COVID-19

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Problem drinking soars in the UK under lock-down

As the world continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are increased warnings from experts about the  mental health issues likely to emerge during lock-down. Similarly, those struggling with pre-existing mental health conditions are likely to find this period of isolation particularly challenging.

The Guardian recently reported that problem drinking is soaring in the UK under lock-down, due to feelings of isolation, stress and uncertainty.

According to the article:

“Alcohol sales in Britain were 30% higher than usual in March, as people prepared for, and became used to, living under the lock-down, which began on the 23rd of the month. One in five of Britons who drink – about 8.6 million people – have begun drinking more often since then, according to recent research by the charity Alcohol Change UK, which represents alcohol service providers.”

Nightingale Hospital Lead Consultant for Addiction Services Dr Andrew Parker shares his expert opinion on this topic, in the piece below.

Alcohol excess in times of COVID-19: Expert opinion from Nightingale Hospital Nightingale Hospital Lead Consultant for Addiction Services, Dr Andrew Parker

Lock-down has created a radical restriction in the variety of rewarding activities. This is experienced as a deprivation and loss, but also, simply boredom.

Lock-down life and isolation exposes our weaknesses – the contradiction, or battle, between what we ought to do (for health and well-being), and what we actually do. This contradiction is central to the human condition – some would say it is the human condition.

In addiction, this contrast becomes extreme, as addictive desires overwhelm more healthy ones. But we are all familiar with this battle at some level.

For those drinking excessively, if the problem is not too advanced, then many will be able to address it by simple self-help, so long as they have the motivation, a strategy and reasonably favourable circumstances. There is plenty of good advice online that they can follow. Even just using the DrinkAware app drink diary can be effective.

Others will struggle to make much progress however, despite having a real desire to change. This is where medical and psychological help is needed. This will include many of those with an established alcohol dependency, where drinking is often perpetuated by the inner restlessness, and other withdrawal symptoms, created by a falling blood alcohol level.

There is a risk, during lock-down, that some in this dependent group, are falling into more and more entrenched dependency. Such a person needs a professional helping hand and the sooner the lifeline is given, the better.

Whilst some alcohol services have had to close because of COVID-19, others are very much open. The crucial first step – which may be therapeutic in itself – is beginning the dialogue and having a proper assessment with a professional. Many people struggle to get off the ground because of ambivalence, fear and being alone in their struggle. A comprehensive medical and psychological assessment can bring clarity to the situation and is an opportunity for personal contact with someone who understands and can lead the way out of the cycle. That first contact can be a powerful turning point in itself.

At Nightingale Hospital our core addiction services for detoxes, 28-day in-patient programme and 1:1 out-patient support are fully open.

Comprehensive assessment by an addictions psychiatrist is often the best place to start, as they will be able to advise on whether a detox is necessary, whether this can be done as an out-patient or in-patient, and what form of treatment is most likely to be effective and affordable.

Some people do recover from addiction with no professional treatment, and there is not only one path. But the evidence is clear – professional treatment works and makes it more likely that people begin recovery and continue in recovery.

At the Nightingale we have long-standing relationships with several mutual self-help groups, (AA, NA, CA) which are often the cornerstone of people’s support following primary treatment. Many of those groups are very much open too – offering support by video-conferencing. One of our aims is to help people get the most out of those meetings and connect with others. That social contact on a regular basis can be a powerful antidote to lock-down restrictions and make the difference between sobriety and deterioration.

So there is support out there for those whose alcohol problem is worsening during lock-down, and who are struggling to get back on track.

For those struggling to change, I advise:

We offer a free telephone consultation to determine if addictions treatment would be right for you, or a loved one. Complete the form below and a member of our expert addictions team will be in touch to arrange an appointment.

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Please contact us in confidence so we can help.

“When you have a problem and you drink, take drugs or gamble, the problem won’t go away. Stay and tackle the problem”