The global pandemic and accompanying lockdown measures could be creating the ‘perfect storm’ for a mental health crisis, that could lead to an increase in alcoholism and compulsive gambling.
The spread of COVID-19 has created a situation where people feel that events are very much out of their control. There is also no clear or definite end to the situation in sight and these factors are both known to increase anxiety. Throw in isolation, loneliness, fear, grief, boredom and other elements related to coronavirus and you have a recipe for a mental health disaster.
Back in April, two dozen prominent mental health experts published a paper in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, warning that the virus could have a huge long-term impact on the population’s mental health, as well as the more obvious physical impact on people who become ill from Coronavirus.
The authors included neuroscientists, psychologists, public health experts and psychiatrists. They called on governments worldwide to prioritise research into effective treatments and carry out real-time mental health monitoring in order to gauge the unfolding impact.
Increasing numbers worried about mental health in lockdown
At around the same time, an Ipsos Mori poll found that lockdown was already starting to have an impact on mental health in the UK. A fifth of people surveyed said they were worried for their mental health, with worries about anxiety being particularly prevalent.
Professor Rory O’Connor from the University of Glasgow, who was one of the Lancet paper’s authors warned that an unfolding coronavirus mental health crisis could also lead to an increase in substance abuse, alcoholism and gambling addiction.
He said that a number of factors including loneliness, anxiety around health issues, isolation, stress, loneliness and the effects of what is likely to be a major economic downturn looked set to create ‘a perfect storm’ that could damage mental health and wellbeing for a lot of people.
Prof O’Connor added that if we did nothing, we risked seeing a surge in various mental health conditions including depression and anxiety, as well as an increase in ‘problem behaviours’ including drug and alcohol misuse and addiction. Other negative impacts could include homelessness and the breakdown in relationships. He said that the scale of these potential problems was too serious to ignore, both for the individuals involved and in terms of the wider impact on society.
This drug and mental health crisis does appear to be unfolding around the world. The Washington Post reported more recently on a Kaiser Family Foundation poll suggesting that half of Americans consider the coronavirus crisis to be having a harmful effect on their mental health.
Mental health crisis fuelling alcoholism
A number of surveys have suggested that people are drinking more during lockdown and there are fears that this could trigger a wave of alcoholism.
Elaine Hindal, the CEO of alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware said that the easy availability of alcohol within the home could prove a temptation for many, leading to ‘drinking without thinking’. She added that habits could quickly form from things like drinking out of boredom, drinking while you worked or opening a bottle of wine in the afternoon, when this would not have been the case were it not for lockdown. She added that it was important to bear in mind that your tolerance to alcohol tended to increase the more that you drank. Over time, this could lead to dependency for some.
Baroness Ilora Finley, chairwoman of the Commission on Alcohol Harms, and Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, also warned that the effects of increased drinking could be felt for a generation.
As some lockdown measures were eased they said: “Now, as signs emerge of some control over new cases of Covid-19, it is increasingly clear that if we don’t prepare for emerging from the pandemic, we will see the toll of increased alcohol harm for a generation.”
Coronavirus could increase compulsive gambling
The coronavirus crisis and lockdown could also be fuelling problem gambling. Speaking in mid-April Anna Hemmings, chief executive of the problem gambling charity GamCare said it was too soon to judge the effects but added: “What we do know is that contributing factors to the addiction, such as financial distress, isolation and boredom, are increasing with Covid-19 and the Government measures.”
It may even be the case that casual gambling has fallen with the majority of sporting events suspended. Online gambling sites are increasingly prevalent however and, for many, represent a growing problem. Casual gambling can easily become a serious problem but compulsive gambling is a very different thing to ‘having the occasional flutter’.
At the end of April the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) announced that all advertising from their members had been removed from broadcast media for at least six weeks.
MP Carolyn Harris called for advertising to be removed from all platforms and said the coronavirus was “absolutely disastrous” for people suffering from gambling addiction.
How to find addiction help
If you are having problems with substance abuse, alcohol or gambling, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Addiction of any kind is very destructive and the longer you delay getting expert help, the worse the consequences could be. Alcoholism, compulsive gambling and other addictions can damage your finances, work, relationships, health and other aspects of your life.
Organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous can provide assistance whether you need help to control your drinking or advice on how to stop gambling. The NHS can also help but resources are frequently stretched in the area of addiction treatment, especially at the moment. This could mean lengthy waiting lists when time is of the essence.
Rehab clinics can also provide specialist help, advice and treatment programmes designed and delivered by non-judgemental experts with a wealth of experience in helping people with addiction problems.