Covid-19 exacerbates problems of alcoholics and their families, says support group

Covid-19 exacerbates problems of alcoholics and their families, says support group

Public health restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated the mental and emotional effects of living with a problem drinker, a support group has found.

“While fewer people are contacting the national helpline, the time that I need to give to callers is greater because their problems are more complex,” explains Julie, a volunteer with Al-Anon.

Julie says the patterns of support for the alcoholic who has stopped drinking have also changed and the impact on the family is quite significant.

Many alcoholics trying to overcome their addiction attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings but do not have an AA sponsor and those meetings have stopped because of Covid-19

Alcoholics who continue drinking may feel unwell and realise that their behaviour is unacceptable but will not acknowledge that it is because of their drinking.

“It is the nature of the disease. It is a catch-22 situation,” says Julie.

“The people who call us want to know how they can cope with living with alcoholism because they are unable to move in any direction. Some are suffering from high levels of anxiety and sometimes resorting to extreme measures that really don't serve them very well.  They may be drinking alcohol too, which might not be the norm for them, and over-reacting to situations."

Julie tries to help callers by trying to get them to look at their home situation and making it better for them.

“The best way they can do that is learn not to react, to detach from the alcoholic without judgement so they don't carry around a whole pile of negative emotions. 

"The focus should be on looking after their family and mental health and keeping out of the fighting ring with the alcoholic."

Chloe, 35, an Al-Anon member, struggled with anxiety and suicidal thoughts while married to a heavy drinker.

The mother of two young children blamed herself for her husband's drinking and one night vented her feelings of frustration out on him before breaking down in tears. 

The couple agreed to see their family GP who recommended that she contact Al-Anon where she learned about alcoholism and how to face her fears.

Meanwhile, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland is urging political party leaders to prioritise mental health services in the wake of Covid-19. 

It also says that at least 800 specialist psychiatrists will be required by 2023. "We are not even halfway to achieving this figure," the college states.

The Al-Anon helpline number is 01 8732699.

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