Secret Drug Addict: ‘Lockdown has been on another level’

People are drinking more during the pandemic as the country struggles with the stress and uncertainty. But there is help out there, writes the Secret Drug Addict.

As soon as lockdown was announced I knew there was going to be a spike in my interactions, either from people in active alcoholism or active recovery. I knew I was about to get busy. Alcohol Change UK reckons a third of drinkers have been hitting the bottle at “increasing or high-risk levels” in the last six months. I suspect this is a drop in the ocean.

I run a Twitter and Instagram account called Secret Drug Addict that offers support and signposting for anyone affected by addiction and mental health issues. I opened up my direct messages on Twitter some years back out of frustration, watching austerity cripple the services that supported me all those years ago. 

I’m pretty safe in the knowledge that I have a solid foundation in my sobriety. I committed that journey 13 years ago when I walked into my first 12-step meeting. That doesn’t make me evangelical or cocky. I just know exactly what I am. And what I need to do to maintain that. I count myself one of the lucky ones. I have no idea how the past several months would have affected me had I not made that decision to get sober when I did. 

It’s a privilege to hear people’s stories. These people have shared their darkest fears, their grief and joy with me, a complete stranger. I’ve had to adapt and learn as it’s growing, and I picked up a few bits of paper to qualify myself and ensure the language I’m using is appropriate. I had to build up a support and signposting network fast. Lockdown, however, has been on another level. 

What we are witnessing is a basic structure of support being pulled out from everyone. It came pretty unannounced, and it’s not showing any signs of letting up. People teetering on the periphery of alcoholism or addiction suddenly have no normal time constraints or commitments. The wheels have come off. 

The stay-at-home parents struggling to be all things to everyone, navigating home schooling, providing snacks 14 hours of the day and exhausted by incessantly cheery WhatsApp groups slip into the habit of having a 1pm glass of wine rather than the 7pm glass while their partners work from a makeshift workspace, uncertain of their future and their ability to provide.

People living alone have a single drink with a friend on a video call one week, then a drink after work by themselves to relax the next. That single drink becomes a habit, gets earlier in the day, and turns into a problem.

Due to my experience of working in the music industry I’ve had a significant increase in people  reaching out to me from the entertainment sector: musicians, merchandisers, crew and caterers who were due to make their yearly wage at the upcoming festivals. Executives furloughed, uncertain that they’ll have a job and an industry to return to. The woman, recently redundant, who won’t take calls before 4pm because she’s sleeping off the hangover she acquired staying up all night drinking and desperately online gambling to make the money to pay her mortgage.

They all found their way into my inbox, struggling with their or their loved ones’ newly amplified daily habits. This has transcended class race and culture. This is non- discriminatory.

People have found new empathy in the situations of those who are less fortunate. We can hope that the world has become a bit more empathetic.

There are, of course, some fantastic positives that have come out of all this in that some have found their way to various online AA meetings, even picking up virtual six-month sobriety chips. For some, lockdown has broken the cycles and habits of drinking which were becoming such a problem. People who would have never felt they were ever going to get to a stage in their lives to walk into a meeting, sit on a chair and blurt out “my name is …. and I’m an alcoholic”  now have access to meetings, 24 hours a day all over the world, through the medium of Zoom.

There are many independent organisations out there who are adapting their services to cover the current issues. Existing services are offering hybrid solutions to make themselves more accessible. People have found new empathy in the situations of those who are less fortunate. We can hope that the world has become a bit more empathetic.

And the media are covering more and more stories with examples of the impact of lockdown, and the effects it’s having on people’s alcohol intake. Public figures are allowing themselves to be candid in ways that people can identify with, which certainly helps to de-stigmatise seeking help and opening up about difficult situations. People don’t need to feel so alone and helpless. And that’s a good thing, right? 

If you or a loved one needs any support or signposting, please feel free to find me on Twitter and get in touch. There are organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous that are available 24 hours a day. There is also We Are With You, who anyone can get in touch with for practical advice and referral to clinical services.

Lockdown is hard. Living through a pandemic is hard. But there is help out there. Being honest with ourselves and with each other, and helping where we can, makes more of a difference than we know.

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