In March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic initiated the emergency lockdowns in the UK, little did many people know how it would impact those on the verge of alcohol dependence and those recovering from alcohol addiction?
Cases of alcohol addiction and relapse have risen during the past year leaving many families in challenging positions as to what to do and how to help their loved ones. In this article, we discuss the effects COVID-19 has had on alcohol use and the steps you can take to support loved ones with addiction during the pandemic.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Drinking Behaviour
Individuals who have struggled with drinking prior to the pandemic have increased their frequency of alcohol consumption or become heavy drinkers during the pandemic. High levels of stress in response to COVID-19 have caused many to develop alcohol dependency or have triggered relapses for others who are already in recovery. The uncertainty concerning their health and the health of their loved ones combined with the economic challenges brought about by the lockdowns have made it difficult to cope.
The lockdowns meant the shutdown of support groups such as attending AA meetings or participating in usual social hangouts that provided an outlet to relax and relieve stress. Mental health has also been significantly affected with increased anxiety and depression because of fear, the lack of control, and the concerns about the future.
The Signs of Alcohol Addiction
To help a loved one you suspect of harmful drinking, it is important to understand the signs of alcohol addiction. Because someone who is dependent on alcohol may deny or try to conceal their behaviour, addiction can be hard to determine. By understanding some of the signs associated with alcoholism, you can better assist a family member or friend.
The warning signs of alcohol addiction include:
- Hiding drinking behaviours or drinking in private
- An inability to stop using or control the amount or frequency of drinking
- The experience of withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is reduced or not consumed
- Persistent feeling of being hungover
- Needing alcohol to relax or feel normal
- Changes in mood
In light of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, many people were drinking in the privacy of their homes making it harder for loved ones to detect changes in behaviour including pressing mental health issues.
What to Do if Your Loved One Is Struggling with Alcohol Addiction
If your loved one has increased their drinking habits, or they’ve become heavy drinkers during the pandemic, you probably want to help them heal. For many people who have developed alcohol addiction or have relapsed, the difficulties experienced during the pandemic may have left them unmotivated or unwilling to pursue addiction treatment and recovery on their own.
As lockdowns are lifted, it is important for individuals with possible alcohol dependence to realise that the challenges we are currently facing with the pandemic may pass; however, addiction can become a lifelong struggle.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to create awareness and provide them with the help that they need.
It is difficult to approach someone you believe needs help for their alcohol use and dependence. The best approach is to support them without judgement and harsh criticism. Let them know that you want what’s best for them and that you’re aware of how their drinking habits could be causing harm and affecting their health. You can offer to look for treatment programmes with them to make the process easier.
Helping Someone Who’s Relapsed
Loved ones who have suffered relapse will require safe intervention and your unwavering support. If you can access their home, it is a good idea to remove any remaining alcohol. Contact their sponsor, if they have one, and help them find suitable treatment and peer support. Many recovery programmes offer virtual meetings to maintain COVID-19 protocols.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Treatment for alcohol addiction will depend on the severity of the addiction, whether underlying mental health issues and substance use are present.
Let’s look at the options for treatment:
Inpatient treatment is provided through a private residential rehab. Individuals will remain at the facility for the duration of treatment including round-the-clock monitoring, one-on-one counselling and patient aftercare once the programme is successfully completed.
Outpatient programmes include therapy with a private counsellor or support group services much like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). There are services that can help with detoxification at home by providing medical supervision and guidance for those who need it.
Government assisted programmes such as rehabilitation and treatment through the NHS may require referral by a professional GP after which you will be placed on a waiting list to access an approved programme.
For those in the process of recovery or in the midst of alcohol addiction, social isolation and the chronic stress caused by the pandemic have contributed to higher incidences of relapse, increased numbers of heavy drinkers, and a rise in hospital admissions related to alcohol.
The isolation and quarantine measures have also made it harder to attend support groups or community and social initiatives. Unfortunately, the current focus of healthcare campaigns does not make provision for alcohol addiction and many people are hesitant to reach out because they struggle to find the help they need, or they fear the stigma associated with alcohol dependence.
Helping someone you love with alcoholism is about providing your unconditional support and making them aware of how their actions are negatively affecting their life and the lives of others. This process can be challenging because some individuals who are addicted to alcohol are in denial or try to conceal their drinking habits. Many organisations, including recovery support groups, offer virtual meetings to provide access to professional assistance in light of COVID-19 measures. You could be a part of a virtual consultation with your loved one to encourage them through the process.
It is important not to criticise someone who could be addicted to alcohol as this could negatively affect their motivation and willingness to find the help that they need. Remain caring, honest, and supportive to help them with their journey.