Many counties and municipalities in Sweden are raising concerns about the increasing number cases of alcohol and other drug use disorders during this pandemic year compared with the previous year.
Pressure, insecurity and anxiety due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis are suspected to be at least partly responsible for fueling the development of rising substance use and other mental health problems.

A report about the COVID-19 situation by the county administrative board has noted the following concerns regarding increasing cases of alcohol use disorders and mental ill-health:

  • Västerbotten County is reporting increased demand for their municipalities’ support services for alcohol addiction;
  • In Jämtland County, half of the municipalities report a greater influx of cases;
  • Norrbotten County reports that several municipalities have concerns over increases of people with alcohol problems; and
  • Halland County reports concerns of increasing mental illness during the pandemic leading to increased addiction.

The number of requests for support and treatment services for alcohol and other drug use disorder issues has increased sharply in 2020 compared to 2019:

  • Älmhult municipality in Kronoberg county has seen an increase from 62 requests for addiction services from January until October 2019 to 74 during the same period this year.
  • The number of requests for support and treatment in Kiruna Municipality increased by 50% compared to 2019.
  • In Östersund Municipality there have already been 152 requests this year just up to September compared to a total of 144 for the whole of 2019.
  • In Bräcke municipality requests for help have increased by 80% compared to 2019.

Reasons for rising alcohol problems

The county administrative board report says that there are several reasons – all connected to the pandemic – for the hike in requests for support and treatment services for alcohol use disorder. These include:

  • Disruptions to routines,
  • Increased pressures due to work from home,
  • Higher stress and anxiety related to pay cuts or job loss, and
  • Financial problems at home.

This is cause for concern because most family members are at home due to the pandemic. It means children are also becoming more exposed to alcohol use of parents or adult family members. Alcohol is also linked with interpersonal violence and a rise in alcohol use disorders likely also leads to rising cases of violence at home. Mental health is negatively affected by alcohol use problems as well and with the pandemic this could further increase problems.

However, the rise in alcohol use disorders reported by many counties and municipalities may not necessarily translate to a population-level increase in alcohol consumption. According to data from CAN in March – April, 2020 alcohol purchases actually decreased by 7% compared to the same time in 2019. The unfolding development could be a polarization of alcohol use such as experienced by the United Kingdom (UK) with heavy alcohol users consuming more alcohol leading to rising alcohol problems in this group while low-risk users are maintaining and even reducing and quitting their alcohol consumption.

Source Website: Dagens Nyheter