Over the past year, along with the surge in the pandemic, there has also been a surge in alcohol consumption and addiction. The following guide takes a closer look at the rise in heavy drinking during the pandemic and the options for treatment.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first arrived in the UK, few were prepared for the upheaval and the devastation it would cause in their lives. As the government issued the first major lockdown for the country in 2020, individuals and families who were already concerned and under strain experienced isolation, anxiety, and the worsening of mental health conditions.
What is Driving the Alcohol Problem During the Pandemic?
The lockdown resulted in the shutdown of businesses, retailers, and non-essential services. Many people felt lonely and isolated driving higher levels of anxiety and depression during this period. The crisis also led more people to rely on alcohol to cope with stress particularly those living on their own who felt isolated from friends, family, and their routines.
The Liver Trust Foundation reported a 500% rise in alcohol consumption and heavy drinking over the past year while cases of domestic violence with alcohol as a risk factor have also drastically increased for the same period.
The problem with alcohol consumption and addiction during the pandemic is isolation. For people with addiction and mental health problems, the lockdown created challenging and difficult circumstances from which many felt that they could not escape. As medical facilities and organizations focused its efforts on addressing COVID, there was little attention paid to those struggling with addiction and mental health difficulties. Lockdowns also meant that support groups and organizations offering addiction support were closed which further isolated those who were looking for support.
In 2020, there was a 20% increase in alcohol-related deaths. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicated a sudden rise in alcohol-related deaths for April to September 2021 revealing the consequences of the pandemic on long term health and the harm caused by heavy drinking
There were also reports of increases in suicidal thinking and attempts since the onset of the pandemic. Because many were in lockdown or self-isolating, their addictive behaviours could continue behind closed doors and without the knowledge of their loved ones.
Not only has the COVID pandemic worsened individual mental health but has also negatively affected physical well-being.
If you are struggling with alcohol and addiction, it is important to find the help and support that you need. In the following section, we look at the treatment options available for those struggling with heavy drinking and problems associated with alcohol use.
What are the Different Treatment Options Available?
The treatment you seek will depend on the nature and the severity of your drinking habits. It also depends on whether you will enter a residential rehabilitation or inpatient programme in which you remain at the facility for a specified period. Outpatient services are also available and offer a flexible approach to treatment.
Residential Alcohol Rehab
Private treatment in the UK is offered through private rehabilitation services, the NHS will rarely fund treatment for individuals struggling with alcoholism. Private treatment can be expensive; however, some medical insurances do provide cover or partial cover for treatment. The typical length of stay ranges from 14 days to 28 days or longer where necessary.
For acceptance into an alcohol rehab programme, individuals are assessed including overall physical and mental health, how long you’ve had the addiction, and if you are using or are addicted to other substances such as illicit drugs. Family life and overall lifestyle are also part of the evaluation to find the right programme and treatment for you.
Before entering a residential rehab programme, detox and overcoming withdrawal must take place before treatment can begin. Most private rehab centres in the UK offer an integrated detox & therapy programme.
Private Outpatient Services
Private outpatient programmes are an alternative for those struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction. The most popular therapies offered through private counselling is cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, and psychodynamic therapy. Therapeutic sessions will focus on one-on-one interactions with a professional therapist (sometimes group therapy may be involved) to work towards overcoming addiction. You will meet with your counsellor according to a schedule with each session lasting between 30 and 45 minutes. It is a highly individualized approach and considered more affordable than inpatient treatment; however, for those affected by severe heavy drinking and alcohol dependence, it is less effective than residential rehab.
Before you can successfully enter a rehab programme, medical detox from alcohol may be necessary. Detox is the process in which alcohol is metabolised by the body and is no longer active in your system. Medical detoxes are advised for alcohol addiction because of the severity of withdrawal and the life-threatening symptoms associated with detoxification.
Detox-only programmes are available through the NHS or via a GP; however, without seeking ongoing addiction counselling thereafter, it significantly reduces your chances of successful recovery. If you are not taught how to cope or ways of dealing with underlying issues, alcohol will remain a crutch and impede your sobriety.
NHS Services & Free Support Groups
Because the NHS is government-funded, NHS outpatient services typically involve being placed on a waiting list before treatment can begin. It is also less likely to be individualised as with private residential rehab because of a large number of patients to each therapist.
Charities and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are also available to provide support to individuals overcoming alcohol addiction. AA is described as a self-help support group in which meetings are attended every week and individuals are taught how to take control of their behaviour and their lives.
Other charities that offer support services for alcohol addiction include:
Adfam – focuses on assisting families and alcohol addiction.
Addaction – support services with an educational approach to handling alcohol misuse.
Compass – this organization offers both structured programmes for treatment and pop-in centres for individual visits.
Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction has gripped the lives of many who have felt isolated, anxious, and depressed with the onset of the pandemic. Seeking help when you need it can make a positive difference in your life and help you with the tools and support that you need to overcome alcohol dependence. Joining a long term recovery and support group should be a part of your sober journey to help you work through challenges and difficulties along the way and after treatment.
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