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Pandemic leads to increase in calls to alcohol support service

Those struggling with alcohol-related issues are being encouraged to seek help via a support group. Alcoholics Anonymous Chiltern and Thames covers the Maidenhead area, and says that the pandemic has made the situation worse for people with a drink problem. Reporter Kieran Bell spoke to ‘Paul’, public information liaison officer, for his insight into the charity adapting to the pandemic and an increase in people seeking help.

A support group helping people deal with alcoholism has said that drinking issues have become an ‘unintended consequence’ of the coronavirus pandemic.

As the social side of our lives shut down and everyone stays at home, sometimes alone, some have taken to the bottle for temporary comfort in hard times.

But ‘Paul’, a public information liaison officer for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the Chiltern and Thames area, whose real name has been hidden to protect his identity, has urged people to refrain from picking up the first drink, as this is the one that kills.

He has also urged anyone needing support with their drinking to contact the AA helpline or website, with Zoom, and some face-to-face, meetings available for those seeking help.

Calls to the AA helpline in 2020 rose 28 per cent to 114,112, Paul said, which marks a ‘significant increase year-on-year’.

In the same year in the Chiltern and Thames area, calls reached a total of 1,700, averaging 140 a month.

A total of 63 meetings a week would usually be held in the Chiltern and Thames area – which includes Maidenhead, Slough, and Windsor, as well as smaller settlements in the area, like Bourne End and the Cookhams. 

“A good proportion of those 63 meetings have managed to keep going on Zoom,” Paul said.

“Meetings that we would typically have 25/30 people at; we are up to 40, nearly 50, on Zoom.

“As a support group we are here to support people when they have found themselves in a dark place, where alcohol has been the natural refuge they have sought for themselves.

“The pandemic took us all by surprise. I am pleased that people are reaching out, but there are still many people out there that do not know how to reach out for help.

“For alcoholics and people who have a problem with it, the situation [COVID] does not help.

“We really want to let them know that AA is here, it is operating, there are many ways to contact us.”

People being made redundant, put on furlough and stuck at home can lead to negative mental health impacts and more drinking at home.

Sales of beers, wines and spirits in supermarkets is up 30 per cent year-on-year, Paul said, which is mostly being drunk inside the house.

Paul added: “Alcoholism is a disease for life. You recover day-by-day. It is something that needs regular treatment.

“In reality, it is the first drink that kills you, so do not pick up the first drink.”

Paul added that alcoholism ‘does not discriminate’ and a diverse range of people have used AA’s services, from younger to older, male to female, and affluent to the working class.

He said that AA is unique in that alcoholics can speak to other alcoholics, who share struggles and can offer their own advice.

“We are here for anybody. We are not judgemental, and we are open 24/7,” Paul said.

If you are struggling with drink, you can contact AA Chiltern and Thames via 01628 530055 or www.aachilternthames.org.uk

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