Exploring the effects the pandemic has had on people's health and ways to get the help needed if you are suffering from an addiction.
With increased isolation, the shut-down of services and its financial effects – it hardly comes as a huge surprise that the number of people suffering from an addiction escalated during lockdown.
And it’s not only previously healthy people who are facing issues. Many recovering addicts have reported finding themselves experiencing relapses as they have struggled to stay in control.
“What starts off as something to relieve boredom or anxiety can become a coping mechanism that leads to dependency or addiction – whether it’s alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, sex, pornography, or a myriad of other things, “ says a spokesman from Action on Addiction.
“As the relationship with that substance or behaviour becomes more important than anything else it eventually becomes all-consuming, and the consequences such as physical withdrawal symptoms, problems with relationships, work, money or sleep can all too soon spiral into chaos.”
If you fear an addiction is threatening to get the better of you or someone close to you, the good news there is plenty of help available. And with restrictions easing a little you might be surprised at just how much support is actually on offer.
It’s no wonder lockdown has been the perfect breeding ground for addictions to take hold. In March new figures revealed alcohol use and addiction was on the up and it prompted The Royal College of Psychiatrists to call for a multi-million pound funding boost in services.
Graham Beech, Chief Executive of Action on Addiction, said: “We know that addiction has thrived on the isolation brought about by lockdown. Addiction is a life-stopping condition which infiltrates families and affects people of all ages and from all social backgrounds.”
Indeed isolation is thought to be one of the biggest contributors. Not being able to do go to your usual places or see family and friends has been hard for everyone. And alongside this, boredom, loneliness and low mood can all escalate when you’re forced away from the everyday life things that keep you focused and busy.
Working from home also means people’s daily interaction with work colleagues is no longer there, and neither is the need to leave the house.
Those put on furlough may suddenly have found themselves with no work to do and no daily routine to adhere to, leaving them wondering how to fill their time.
And with the third lockdown in January falling in the middle of winter only exacerbated the problem. The cold and dark weather inevitably added to the feelings of being isolated and fed up.
Many people have also experienced heightened anxiety over worries about their personal health, money and their future.
The thing about addiction is that we often tend to think it happens to ‘other people’ and that things have to be extreme to be classed as serious. It’s the idea that alcoholics must drink all day every day, sipping vodka or gin first thing in the morning, and that drug addicts are permanently using narcotics. Of course they are myths that still need to be debunked because in reality anyone can become an addict, no matter what their age, gender or background.
And in a lockdown situation people may have found themselves turning to other things to help them escape their feelings or simply to fill the time that might have been spent out of the house socialising and enjoying different pastimes.
But the most frightening thing with addiction is that it tends to happen so gradually that you might not even realise it’s a problem before it’s too late. For example, that extra glass of wine in the evening – because ‘why not I’ve nowhere to be’ or ‘it will help me relax’ – might eventually turn into a bottle and before long you find you can’t cope without it, that your whole evening revolves around it.
For some this grows even more as alcohol and drugs only offer a temporary escape. The crashing lows experienced the next day might prompt further use to keep the good feelings going. ‘Hair of the dog’ to help the hangover or another drug hit to combat the comedown. It’s a cycle that can be difficult to break.
Indeed boredom and the lack of anything else to do could be the reason for shopping addition to take hold. With the shops closed and online browsing such a huge thing now there’s pretty much nothing you can’t order at the click of a button. And who doesn’t feel that little high, that tinge of excitement when the delivery van pulls up outside and a package gets dropped in the porch?
With little else to spend hard-earned working-from-home cash on, online shopping might have started small, a little treat here and there, telling yourself you had to buy it as the shops were closed. Then before long it’s become a problem, because the high of the delivery arriving is short-lived and it’s onto your next fix, buying anything, stuff you don’t need, just to get that rush of excitement.
It’s a similar cycle with gambling. Online betting is huge and taking part brings excitement at the possibility of winning a fortune. If you’re struggling financially too, there’s the idea that one big win could be all it takes to sort it out and then all the cash problems will be over.
When your spending starts to spiral, however, and debts mount up, suddenly you could find yourself in deeper trouble.
The first step
The first step to recovery is realising you have a problem – and admitting it to yourself.
If you know your spending is out of control, your reliance on alcohol or drugs is taking over your life or you find yourself spending too much on things that you can’t seem to stop, for example, then try to be as honest with yourself as you can. Listen to loved ones who might have raised concerns, do some research and read up on how addictions can affect people.
It can be frightening but don’t be afraid to take action, especially now. Coming out of lockdown means face-to-face services are starting to operate again and the potential to get help could be more readily available.
Graham Beech, from Action on Addiction, says: “Addiction has the potential to have a far-reaching negative impact across the whole of society. The much better news is that recovery from addiction can also be far reaching – a force for good that is positively life-changing. One of the lessons from the pandemic is that it has never been more important than now to invest in evidence-based recovery that will give people the chance to live their lives free from the ravages of addiction.”
Many services have helplines, which can offer advice and point you in the right direction, whether you want to get help for yourself or a loved one. The Action on Addiction charity says it saw an 86% rise in the number of people seeking help in January this year compared with the same month last year.
Making a phone call can often be the first port of call, especially if you’re feeling nervous and anxious about seeking support. It can also be a good option to simply get some advice on what to do next. If you’re worried about a partner or family member then this could be a lifeline.
Groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous all offer an opportunity to go along to a meeting, without any pressure to talk or make decisions on what you should do. As time goes on, however, the groups can offer much support.
Rehab and counselling are also options. A number of services are available and some have been offering online or phone sessions since the pandemic hit, but more face-to-face services may now be available with some restrictions having been lifted.
People with concerns about gambling can also opt to have a block put on their bank account and on some online betting sites as a measure to stop them accessing anything as they try to seek help.
Here to help you
If after reading this you have concerns about addiction, either for yourself or someone you know, we’ve listed some phone lines and websites of some of the services that could help. Making that call could be the first step to a positive change.
Frank: National helpline and website providing advice and information about drugs – talktofrank.com, 0300 123 6600
Alcoholics Anonymous: Community bringing people together to help share experience, strength and hope in recovering from alcoholism. alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk, 0800 9177 650
Al-Anon: Provides support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking. al-anonuk.org.uk, 0800 0086811
Cocaine Anonymous: Helping peoples to stay free from cocaince and other mind-altering substances. cocaineanonymous.org.uk, 0800 612 0225
DrugFAM: Provides a lifeline of save and caring support to anyone affected by someone else’s drug, alchol or gambling addictions. drugfam.co.uk, 0300 888 3853
Narcotics Anonymous: Provides support for those attempting to recover from drugs other than just alcohol. ukna.org, 0300 999 1212
Gamblers Anonymous: Men and women who have joined together to do something about their own gambling problem and to help other compulsive gamblers do the same. gamblersanonymous.org.uk, 0330 094 0322
GamAnon: Provides information, assistance and comfort about compulsive gambling and its financial and emotional effects on the gamblers’ families and loved ones.
gam-anon.org, 0330 094 0322