A father-of-three in recovery from alcohol dependency has urged people to seek help in lockdown, amid concerns that referrals to drug and alcohol services have dropped.
Some organisations are seeing just 30 per cent of new referrals compared with this time last year - yet a fifth of people who already drink alcohol say they are drinking more since lockdown began, and sales of alcohol have risen by a third.
Tim Morgan, 37, from the Rhymney Valley, was drinking up to a bottle of whiskey a day before entering recovery last year.
He says his drinking "crept up on him" and he didn't realise he had become dependent on it.
Tim has now been alcohol-free for 12 months and has since trained as a mentor to help support others towards sobriety.
He said: "If this outbreak took place a year ago, I’m not sure how I would have coped. That’s why I worry for people choosing to continue in the same vein, instead of reaching out at a time like this.
"For those already struggling with alcohol, I’d be very surprised if they weren’t drinking more during lockdown. Dealing with difficult or new situations can definitely make you reach for the bottle.’’
This pandemic is not just taking its toll on people's physical health, but also people's mental health. Alcohol is not a way of eradicating stress and it's not a way of killing boredom. It's addictive. My advice would be - be mindful of what you're doing. Consider the volume of alcohol you're drinking. If you feel as though you're starting to drink too much, reach out.
A number of non-clinical bases have been forced to shut during the coronavirus outbreak, in line with government guidelines.
Tim had looked forward to starting his voluntary role as a peer mentor with Cyfle Cymru – a service that supports people towards recovery and into education, training, volunteering and employment - but just as work was about to begin, the Newport hub had to close its doors.
Barod and Kaleidoscope, who jointly provide drug and alcohol services in some areas, said people might be unaware that support is still on hand during lockdown.
Their #TimeToBrew campaign aims to inform and support people during the coronavirus lockdown in relation their alcohol consumption and well-being.
With many hazardous and harmful drinkers tending to refer themselves into treatment via their GP, we want to absolutely reassure those wishing to access support that they can get in touch directly with their local service. A drop in new referrals could mean people are unaware that help is available under lockdown conditions, but our services remain open and are ready to support anyone affected by drug and alcohol use in a time of unparalleled change.
Martin Blakebrough, CEO at addiction charity Kaleidoscope, said: ‘’COVID-19 has forced us all into a new and strange reality, and often during times of great change – whether that’s a move to university, children flying the nest, retirement or the loss of a partner - our relationship with alcohol also changes.
"For people supporting a loved one with alcohol dependency, or struggling to manage alcohol consumption at home for the first time, help is available."
Tim is now continuing his recovery in earnest, aided by online meetings, virtual support, at-home workouts and playing his electric guitar.
He said: "I’m lucky to have a solid support network. I FaceTime with two friends from my recovery group every week, along with a weekly virtual recovery meeting. I’m trying to keep as much structure as I can in my daily life, and whether online or offline, that contact is a really great way of keeping our spirits up, supporting each other and preventing relapse.
“I want people to know support is still available. Yes, service delivery might look a little different, but I’d encourage people to reach out. Everyone is different. And perhaps for some, taking that first step into service by way of a phone call or video chat could feel less overwhelming, less intrusive.
"There are a number of ways you can reach out on your own terms.’’
Hear more of Tim Morgan's story in this report by James Crichton-Smith:
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with drug and alcohol issues during the COVID-19 outbreak, support is available here.