It didn’t take long to work out that Australians would be drinking more alcohol than ever before during the global pandemic despite pubs, clubs, function centres and restaurants all being closed for significant amounts of time. To be precise on how much more; well, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians drank two billion dollars more alcohol between March and December 22, 2020. That amount doesn’t even factor in the New Year and traditional holiday period when, if you can recall, each of the eastern states went back into lockdown for varying amounts of time.
To put that into perspective: In the March to June quarter Australians spent $6.21 billion on alcohol which pipped the September quarter at $6.18 billion.
When you have a look at those numbers it might be reasonable to think that the increase was shared evenly across the drinking population, but that’s not the case. After you remove about 28 percent of people who claim to have reduced their drinking, the increase in consumption can be attributed to just 20% of the population. To break those numbers down even further, many of the 20% said that their increased consumption was very modest – an extra drink or two a week – but one in three said that they increased their consumption by three to four drinks per week.
Now three to four drinks per week may not sound like all that much either given the reasons for the increase were a combination of boredom, more time spent at home with less to do after a job loss or a reduction in hours and the associated stress. However there are some additional insights provided by the Australian National University report that identify some characteristics in that 20% of drinkers which are consistent with a trend that may not just disappear when restrictions are lifted and the job market and economy corrects.
Frequent drinkers are becoming problem drinkers and drug users
According to the Australian National University report, drinkers who increased their alcohol consumption by three to four drinks during the global pandemic were already frequent drinkers coming from a “high base” as the reports co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle from the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods put it.
“Those individuals who increased from an already high base, or those who have had an increase in alcohol consumption alongside a worsening in mental health outcomes, are likely to be of the greatest concern for public policy,” Professor Biddle wrote.
Additionally, the report found that those drinkers who increase their alcohol consumption also increase their consumption of illicit drugs and vice versa. Of the illicit drug users surveyed, 41% said that they were drinking more.
So in summary, the three to four drinks a week increase – and many may have increased by more than three or four drinks – is accompanied by an increase in illicit drug use by people who are already frequent drug and alcohol consumers or already consumers of one and are now consuming the other.
These are the problem drinking patterns that have developed during Covid
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) commissioned YouGov Galaxy to conduct a poll of Australians to understand if their purchasing and consumption of alcohol patterns had changed during the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia.
Like the ANU report, YouGov Galaxy reported that one in five households (20%) were buying more alcohol than usual since the Covid outbreak.
That survey identified the following trends: 70% report drinking more alcohol than usual; 32% are concerned about their own drinking or the drinking of someone that they live with; 28% are drinking to cope with anxiety and stress; 28% are drinking alone more often; 24% start to drink and end up drinking much more than they intended; and 20% are starting to drink earlier in the day.
Harm minimisation is temporary, recovery is the long term solution
In April 2020 The Australian Government announced that they would spend an additional $6 million dollars on online and phone support services for people experiencing drug and alcohol problems resulting from the global, coronavirus pandemic.
There’s no way to trace the uptake of those services and it’s even harder to understand their effectiveness. When considering non-residential drug and alcohol services more broadly, a December 2020 article in ‘The Conversation’ suggested that anecdotally, clients in non-residential treatment have had trouble adapting to telehealth and ‘Zoom’ style consultations instead of their usual face to face consultations. In a pandemic, social distancing regulations, technology issues, trust and confidentiality are all barriers to getting help.
This is a tricky problem to navigate during a crisis. A decline in mental health which includes depression and anxiety can be attributed to an increase in alcohol and drug use as can financial stress and more cases of domestic and other violence. When confronted with these problems and a limited amount of time at their disposal, counsellors see harm minimisation as their first priority rather than a view to long term recovery. By their nature, sessions are improvised to discuss the manifestation of a drug and alcohol problem in each individual’s circumstances rather than getting to the nature of the problem itself.
If your drinking has increased during Covid 19 now is the time to consider a residential recovery program
The treatment of alcoholism and addiction is most effective in a residential facility away from the pressures and rigor of daily life. Of course life has to be addressed and our responsibilities met, but if alcohol and drugs are playing an increasingly important role in helping you to cope then you need a solution to life that doesn’t include alcohol and drugs.
Harm minimisation has a role to play in the recovery process, but long term solutions to the decline in your mental health and the behaviours associated with excessive drinking and drug use are found in the process of step by step recovery.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms you should consider the benefits of not drinking alcohol and contact a residential alcoholism treatment program like The Sydney Retreat in Stanmore: increased unmanageability; drinking more to cope with stress or anxiety; noticing that those closest to you are concerned about how much you’re drinking; becoming increasingly irritable, angry or aggressive; increased tolerance to the effects of alcohol; experiencing situations as a result of your drinking that you never intended to happen; restlessness, unhappiness, fear and guilt.
It may be tempting to think that the upheaval to your lifestyle is responsible for the increase in your drinking – that when life gets back to normal then so will your drinking.
That’s unlikely. The statistics show that people with a predisposition to frequent or heavy drinking started to drink more in response to the restrictions placed on their lifestyle. There is little evidence that previously light drinkers became heavy drinkers during the global, coronavirus pandemic.
If you’re a heavy drinker, alcoholic or potential alcoholic there are compelling reasons to give up drinking, not least because of the damage you are doing to your health. If you have come to the realisation that your drinking is costing you more than money then the decline from here can be rapid. You can lose everything that you once valued without even knowing that you’re doing it.
The Sydney Retreat is a peer led recovery approach that benefits from the lived experience of people in recovery. Not only will you be provided with the tools to stop drinking and using drugs, you will become a part of a community who help one another to get sober and stay sober. If you have a problem with alcohol and or drugs, this is a unique and affordable opportunity that will change the direction of your life. Get help today.