Community stories from indigenous communities in Australia and communities in the United Kingdom (UK) illustrate how COVID-19 fuels alcohol harm…

Alcohol harm in indigenous community, Northern Territory, Australia

In the Northern Territory (NT) Indigenous community of Peppimenarti alcohol fueled violence is tearing the community apart. Traditional owner John Wilson is devastated to see the harm caused by alcohol in his community.

The federal government increased welfare payments in the community to help deal with the pandemic. Unfortunately many of the locals are spending the extra money on alcohol instead of essentials, according to The Peppimenarti community leader and West Daly Regional Council Mayor.

Smugglers are also taking advantage of the situation and selling alcohol at prices as high as $500 a bottle, taking away what little money is there.

Many of the 200 people in the community rely on welfare support and under the Federal Government’s remote work-for-the-dole scheme, most who can are usually engaged in work and training. However due to the coronavirus the government has removed its welfare mutual obligation requirements during the pandemic, most people have disengaged from community development programs (CDP).

The lack of engagement along with increased alcohol use has added to community tensions. Overcrowding further exacerbates the problem. People are worried that the rising violence will put more youth behind bars.

Coronavirus has revealed a lot of cracks in the system,” said Wes Miller, manager of governance programs for the NT’s peak Aboriginal health organisations, as per ABC News.

Wes Miller, manager, governance programs for the NT’s peak Aboriginal health organisations

Many leaders of NTs remote communities have told Miller that the extra welfare payments are being used for alcohol.

One silver lining is the new BMX track that the community has pitched in to build. It has brought the people together. As kids who skip school won’t be allowed into the track it will help with school absenteeism as well.

Changing alcohol norm in Australia

While indigenous communities in Australia struggle with the vicious cycle of poverty and marginalization, alcohol harm and COVID-19, there are also positive developments.

According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019, between 2016 and 2019 the number of people who quit alcohol use in the Australian population rose from 1.5 to 1.9 million people.

24%
Alcohol-Free Youth
Almost a quarter of Australian youth aged 25 to 29 years old now live alcohol-free.

The trend towards the alcohol-free way of life is largely being driven by young people. Reportedly, 21% of 18 to 24 year olds and 24% of 25 to 29 year olds live alcohol-free in Australia. As Movendi International has previously reported the alcohol-free trend is being driven by youth globally.

There are many reasons why people are choosing to go alcohol-free. Older people tend to become alcohol-free for health concerns. For young people it is usually social reasons such as believing in the benefits of reduced alcohol use and not liking to be intoxicated.

There is increasing awareness of long-term as well as short-term health harms. Young people now are more concerned about their future and are reducing and quitting alcohol, or staying alcohol-free, because it can affect their health and success in the long-term.

I don’t need alcohol to kind of celebrate or anything like that, it’s not my go-to and I’ve found healthy alternatives,” said Chris Nayna, personal trainer and small business owner who became alcohol-free at 21, as per ABC News.

Chris Nayna, personal trainer and small business owner, Australia

It’s [alcohol] just not enjoyable at any point,” said Payton Rodman, Australian astronomer and PhD student of Cambridge University, as per ABC News.

Payton Rodman, Australian astronomer, PhD student, Cambridge University

I tried it when young, it’s nasty, costs too much and you lose self control,” said Phil Rufio, who responded to ABC Science on why he is alcohol-free.

Phil Rufio

It helps that the alcohol-free way of life is now becoming more accepted in Australia. However this is still dependent on gender and context. In urban areas and for women it is more accepted to be alcohol-free than in rural areas and for men.

Rising alcohol harm during COVID-19 in the United Kingdom

Community voices show the different ways that alcohol is impacting people in different circumstances and walks of life. Some stay alcohol-free, some get sober, some use most of their resources on alcohol, even those who don’t use alcohol are affected by someone else’s alcohol use, and COVID-19 might be fueling some of these issues.

In the UK, community voices share stories about yet another dimension: how occasional alcohol use can turn into alcohol use disorder.

For example, Chris McLone’s story shows how the habit of using alcohol “socially” can quickly turn into addiction. Chris’s daughter, a key worker, moved out to keep her father safe during the coronavirus crisis. This left Chris alone and isolated during the pandemic which has been a period of anxiety and stress for many. Using alcohol to cope with the situation soon spiraled out of control as he got addicted to the substance.

Fortunately, he is now 70 days sober. With help and encouragement of his family, Chris turned to the “Steps Together” alcohol and other drug rehabilitation service in Leicestershire, UK that helped him in his recovery journey.

I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again tomorrow. Of course, the exact same thing happened the next day. And that’s when I realised I had to take big steps to get some proper treatment,” said Chris McLone, 40 year old sales manager and resident of Leicestershire, as per BBC.

Chris McLone

GP Dr Rob Hampton, who specialises in addiction services was one of the people who helped Chris. Dr. Hampton says Chris’s story is far from unique. Addiction services have seen a marked increase in people in need of help.

The added stresses of the pandemic, loss of routine and isolation have fueled an addiction epidemic in the country.

When listening to the stories, these were people who, a few weeks ago, were actually functioning very well, holding down jobs, living normal, day-to-day lives,” said Dr Rob Hampton, specialist in addiction services, as per BBC.

Within three weeks they’d become dependent alcoholic drinkes and needing detoxification rehab.”

Dr Rob Hampton, specialist in addiction services

A recent survey found that in the UK, 20% adults feel out of control due to their alcohol consumption at least once a month. The data come from a study analyzing the subjective effects of alcohol consumption in 21 countries including the UK.

In the UK, the NHS states no level of alcohol is save and provides alcohol use guidelines of no more than 14 units of alcohol per week to reduce the risk. According to the above survey men who reached their ‘tipping point’ consumed 32g more alcohol than the low risk guidelines.

https://movendi.ngo/reports/alcohol-intoxication-around-the-globe/

In her weekend column in The Guardian writer Grace Dent sheds light on the alcohol norm during COVID and reveals her own reflection that she finds herself consuming more alcohol than ever.

We’re mixing our own cocktails and protecting our lungs, but I’m not so sure we’re as concerned about our livers.”

Grace Dent, The Guardian

Ms Dent chronicles the stresses and anxieties and all the occasions Brits are now enticed to reach for the alcohol bottle, or two. And she illustrates the COVID-19 alcohol norm that provides as many opportunities to consume alcohol as it does excuses for why more consumption is still not a problem.

Drinking [alcohol] is never a problem when the booze arrives with charming labels via small-batch, low-intervention vineyards, along with an order of exemplary sourdough and Clarence Court Burford Brown eggs.”

Grace Dent, The Guardian

And so, people find themselves struggling with alcohol, on top of the coronavirus sturggles.

The helpline of the British Liver Trust, an organization providing addiction services, has seen an increase in calls of 500% since lockdown began. This is an addition to an already huge increase – up by 400% – in deaths due to alcohol-related liver disease since 1970.

500%
Rise in Addiction Helpline Calls
The helpline of the British Liver Trust has seen an increase in calls of 500% since lockdown began.

Addiction experts say the pandemic and lockdown has just accentuated the need for a proper alcohol strategy from government.

We need to address the public health measures, the population-wide issues,” said Vanessa Hebditch, policy director at the British Liver Trust, as per BBC.

Vanessa Hebditch, policy director, British Liver Trust

The organization calls for evidence based policy solutions to tackle the alcohol burden such as increasing taxation, introducing minimum unit pricing (MUP) in England and curbing alcohol marketing as well as implementing labeling, all of which are recommended by the World Health Organization.

Nick Davis, a 50 year old from Yorkshire, is now 500 days sober. Lockdown and the pandemic was hard on his recovery as connection is a big part of the journey which was cut off due to physical distancing and isolation. He managed to get through by focusing on some healthy leisure time activities such as caring for his dog and playing his guitar.

I think the best advice I could give is, just be honest. Be honest with yourself, be honest with everybody else, tell everybody else what you’re going through,” advices Nick Davis, 50 year old from Yorkshire, as per BBC.

Nick Davis

The World Health Organization has recommended to not use alcohol as a coping mechanism during the pandemic as well as to restrict access to alcohol during lockdown. And the WHO has provided some healthy ways of dealing with the pandemic.


Sources:

ABC News: “Coronavirus stimulus payments have unforeseen consequences for this remote community, say leaders

ABC News: “Australians tell us: Why I don’t drink alcohol

BBC: “Coronavirus: ‘I became alcoholic during lockdown’

LBC News: “20% of British drinkers say they feel ‘out of control’

The Guardian: “I started lockdown with the focus of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. Now I’m drinking more than ever