Covid-19: Warnings against problem drinking becoming a legacy of the pandemic

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on July 14th 2020, 7:00am

Ever since Covid-19 lockdowns began to be called in different nations across the world earlier in the year, there have been real concerns that an increased prevalence in drink and drug related violence could come as a direct result.

Concerns were so great that the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Hans Henri Kluge, warned during a WHO Europe briefing that people should limit their alcohol consumption or risk drink-related harm being a legacy of the Covid-19 crisis which could “hound us for years”, along with the adverse impact the crisis has had on employment, the economy, and mental wellbeing.

Dr Kluge said: “Yes, this [reducing alcohol consumption during lockdown] is definitely one of the [WHO] recommendations, definitely to limit it.

“Everyone has to look at their own situation. The Covid-19 response is an additional moment to quit smoking but this has to be looked at in a broad atmosphere of how the person is feeling.

“But to put it short, alcohol is a very bad adviser. With job losses, rising alcohol-based harm and drug use, stress and fear, the legacy of this pandemic could hound us for years.

“So much related to Covid-19 has been unparalleled and is outside our control and understanding. But with solidarity we can prevent violence from blighting the lives of generations.”

Similar concerns have recently been raised by former UK prime minister Theresa May, who spoke on BBC Radio Four and urged employers not to make their staff work from home any longer than the end of lockdown over concerns of domestic abuse.

Furthermore, Dr Kluge stressed that another consequence of turning to alcohol would be the adverse impact it could have on the individual’s physical health.

Dr Kluge elaborated: “It is becoming clear that the healthier you were before the pandemic plays a crucial role [in whether you recover]. People who age healthily are less at risk.

“For those in self quarantine or working from home, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, physical activity and staying away from tobacco and alcohol.”

An increase in problem drinking as a result of the pandemic also has an immediate knock-on effect on demand for alcohol advisory services, which include the Guernsey Alcohol Advisory Service, which provides counselling and support to those in the Bailiwick of Guernsey whose lives have been negatively affected by alcohol abuse.

Speaking with the Leaders Council of Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s Matthew O’Neill, Guernsey Alcohol Advisory Service director, David Newman, said: “Our organisation covers the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which also includes Alderney, Sark, and a few other islands. So, the population we deal with is around 70,000 to 74,000 people. It isn’t a large amount, and the organisation therefore sees 100-200 people a year.”

A spike in demand for its services as a direct result of Covid-19 is likely to see the number of referrals increase significantly.

UK charity We Are With You, formerly known as Addaction, is a similar organisation specialised in tackling drug and alcohol misuse, and is concerned that the social isolation caused by lockdown could result in an increase in harmful drinking.

Deputy chief executive Laura Bunt said: “These are really difficult times for everyone.

“Our experience of working with people to reduce the amount of alcohol they drink shows that social isolation is a big factor in why people may drink more heavily.

“Coupled with the huge anxiety of living through a pandemic, this means we could see a big rise in people drinking more alcohol at home.

“Harmful drinking can impact people’s physical and mental health.”

Meanwhile in the UK, the new Domestic Violence Bill has cleared the House of Commons and is in the process of going through the House of Lords before gaining Royal Assent. 

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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
July 14th 2020, 7:00am

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