As drink sales rocket during the COVID-19 lockdown, Stephen Delahunty reports on how the reality of Britain’s dependency on alcohol is coming home.
As sales of alcohol soar during the Coronavirus pandemic, research by a national charity has revealed millions of Brits are concerned about the drinking of someone they know during the crisis, as parts of the UK seeking advice for drug and alcohol problems has risen 200% since lockdown measures began in March.
The findings come as alcohol sales in supermarkets and off-licenses rocketed in March and April according to consumer analysts Kantar, and addiction experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists have warned problem drinking has risen significantly during the pandemic.
Drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You has found that 60% of people are less likely to access non-emergency health services due to the current Coronavirus restrictions.
Together with YouGov Direct the charity found that the biggest barrier to people accessing health services was concerns about placing extra strain on the NHS (54%), the fear of catching COVID-19 (19%) and health services being closed (8%).
As a result, new referrals into treatment across its drug alcohol and mental health services are down by 52% during the lockdown period when compared with January 2020, with alcohol referrals falling 72% over the same period.
However, the number of people contacting the charity’s webchat service has increased in March and April compared to the first two months of the year. Calls to its Scotland helpline have risen 200% during lockdown, with the percentage of alcohol related calls dealt with rising from 32 to 50% of all calls during this time.
Holly Sexton is a recovery worker for the charity in Lincoln. She thought people were finding it easier to contact the charity digitally as it may help remove some of the stigma associated with seeking out help with drugs and alcohol in person. Sexton also described how many of her own clients were finding it easier to take part in video chat and online group sessions.
“Our digital services are allowing people to ask questions that maybe they hadn’t before. Our concern is that services like ours could be overwhelmed after lockdown eases, but we’re already preparing for that,” she added.
Millions Worried About People they Know
Over six million people are worried about the drinking of someone they know during the current restrictions, while the most common reasons people think someone may use alcohol at the current time were boredom (80%), loneliness (53%) and anxiety (53%).
More than 90% of people think support from a family member or friend is important in helping someone with an alcohol problem, but only 19% of people would be very confident in talking to someone they know about the person in question’s drinking.
Sammie volunteers with We Are With You and is in recovery from alcohol. She explained how the current lockdown measures can lead to people in recovery falling back into old habits.
“Isolation, boredom and anxiety are big factors which lead to people drinking more. And without work or other obligations to keep people in check, some people may go into spirals of drinking like I used to. But the support is still out there, online support groups are helping me cope and I still speak to Dawn on the phone. You don’t need to go through your GP or worry about putting extra strain on the NHS.”
Laura Bunt, deputy CEO at We Are With You, said: “At the best of times we know four out of five people with an alcohol issue aren’t accessing support, with less people wanting to access health services right now, there’s a danger we may see a second wave health crisis once the current restrictions are lifted.”
Bunt wanted to assure people that the charity’s treatment services are warm and non-judgemental, and will work with individuals to help them make healthier choices.
“You can also talk anonymously to a trained advisor via our online webchat. Remember, we are with you during this crisis. You don’t need to contact your GP or worry about putting extra strain on the NHS — just visit our website to find out who the provider in your local area is,” she added.
“We know that human connection and relationships are fundamental to helping people make healthier choices and improve their wellbeing. The vast majority of people we’ve supported credit someone who stood by them through thick and thin.”