Pandemic sees more and more people seeking help over alcohol

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The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Britain has coincided with a boom in alcohol sales, up by around a third according to some reports.

While restrictions and closures affecting pubs and bars have no doubt played a part, it’s also likely that people are simply drinking more this year.

The trend is perhaps not that surprising given the higher levels of anxiety, stress or even boredom people are experiencing, but it comes at a cost, with more and more people seeking help over alcohol.

This month the Herald spoke to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) about the situation and how people can get help.

Phoebe from Stratford (not her real name) now works within Alcoholics Anonymous and knows the difference AA can make, having sought their help to deal with her issues with alcohol.

Phebe said; “In 2011 I tried to take my own life, I couldn’t see a way to stop drinking, thankfully I didn’t die and three days later I walked into my first AA meeting. I can honestly say it has changed my life.

“I went to doctors and I spoke to councillors and it just didn’t help, their focus was on trying to get me to control my drinking, but as an alcoholic, I just couldn’t do that.

“Being an alcoholic doesn’t mean you have to be drinking every day, you don’t need to wake up and put whiskey on your cornflakes, it means that once you start drinking that first drink triggers a chemical reaction in your brain that means you can’t stop.

“AA is about complete abstinence, you don’t need to have stopped drinking to come, but you need to want to stop drinking. Essentially we are all alcoholics talking to other alcoholics about how to live without alcohol every day.

“The meetings are like topping up our medicine, I know that for me it would be dangerous if I didn’t attend two weekly meetings, but everyone is different.”

Like many organisations, Alcoholics Anonymous has embraced technology during the pandemic with video meetings now integral to supporting its members.

“The face to face meetings have a social aspect to them, you give people a hug, you chat or do the washing up together, so that aspect is a bit different in the Zoom meetings at present, but there are benefits to doing it this way too.” Phoebe said.

“For example I was able to attend a meeting in America, I listened to a 96-year-old woman speak who’d been sober for 67 years, it was absolutely incredible listening to that with 1,000 other people over Zoom, I’d never have been able to do that otherwise.

“I know that I can attend any AA meeting anywhere in the world and feel at home and using the AA website you can find meetings going on across the world 24/7.

“Calls to AA in Coventry and Warwickshire have risen by at least a third since the start of the pandemic, it’s been a very difficult time for people’s mental health, people’s routines are not the same and if they are at home people might not need to hide their drinking from their employer or their spouse as they might have done in normal times. It might be easier to drink at any time of the day too and boredom may be affecting people, all this probably contributes to more people drinking more. This is not to say that these people might not have come to us for help eventually, but perhaps the pandemic has sped things up.

“Our society is very acceptable of drinking, alcohol is everywhere, available whenever you eat, it is treated as a normal thing to do, which makes it really hard for those that have a problem with alcohol. Addicts also have a very bad reputation because of how they act when they drink or take drugs, it feels dirty admitting you are an alcoholic, you feel that society will turn its back on you, it took me five years to admit it and six months to go to AA but it was a turning point in my life. I realise that I have an illness and it wants to kill me, I have to fight it every day, I’ve not had a drink in eight years and ten months.

“We have 41 meetings in Coventry and Warwickshire including five in Stratford. At the moment we are obviously not having face to face meetings, it is being done on zoom. Our meetings are not discussion groups, they work where a main sharer will speak first and than later on other members of the meeting are able to share their experiences, it isn’t really a backwards and forwards thing.

“We are completely non-political, non-religious and we never turn anyone away, whatever walk of life you are from.”

If you want to talk to someone about issues with alcohol the Alcoholics Anonymous website at www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk is a good first place to look while AA in Coventry and Warwickshire also has a local helpline number at 02476612211.

The phone line is manned from 10am-10pm and outside of these times a messaging service is available.