May 2020 - Hader Clinic Queensland

COVID-19 is Driving People to Drink

Going in or out of COVID-19 – no matter which way, stress is driving people to drink.

It would seem that COVID-19 virus has its tentacles wrapped around every aspect of your life as you know it.

While we know that stress can precipitate increased levels of drug and alcohol use, what is concerning about this pandemic that new stressors are emerging.

Firstly, there’s the changing of our most innate social behaviours, such as hugging, shaking hands and sharing a meal with friends, to prevent the spread of the virus that’s having an impact.

There’s dealing with the new normal of “social distancing” and being isolated from family and friends.

There’s the economic uncertainty, including dealing with being stood down from work, unemployment, applying for benefits that is having an impact.

There’s mounting financial pressure. In a COVID-19 affected world, peoples’ ability to pay their bills is diminishing. Some people have lost their livelihoods. Others have lost a roof over their heads.

For some, home schooling children and trying to work from home has become an enormous stressor.

Even adapting to a change of routine and being unable to access pleasurable activities, such as going to the gym is stressful

It would seem like stress is building up in the world like a pressure cooking and in an effort to let off steam, another potential public health crisis is brewing.

Alcohol misuse has been on the rise over the COVID-19 pandemic as individuals drink as a means of coping with these new stressors.

Often this is driven by feelings of powerlessness to change the current circumstances – often it’s easier, as some addicts report, to drink forget about those feelings.

The Lancet states:

“Stress is a prominent risk factor for the onset and maintenance of alcohol misuse”.

It’s been proven time and time again that alcohol use rises after experiencing traumatic events. For example, alcohol consumption rose after the 2008 global financial crisis.

Chronic alcohol use results in changes to neural tissues and reward pathways within the brain. Chronic alcohol use further causes impairment of emotional regulation, which can lead the user to escalate their drinking to achieve the same affect in changing their mood.

Although no human trials have been performed (due to ethical concerns), animal studies have demonstrated negative effects, including a heightened reaction to stress and neural pathway (brain) responses. It could be inferred that social isolation could be a trigger for increased alcohol usage.

Additionally, a risk factor for alcohol misuse and dependency disorders, that is a heightened inclination towards impulsive and risk taking behaviours by individuals, may be elicited during times of high stress. This has been reflected in reports of spiking alcohol use, relapse and other risky behaviours.

If you are finding that your alcohol use has been escalating over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic period and you’re feeling out of control and unable to stop, the first step towards finding a solution is viewing your situation with self-compassion and asking for help.

We are living in an unusually stressful time and you, or your loved ones are worthy of care. The Hader Clinic Queensland provides specialist care for the treatment of alcohol dependency and can confidentially help you find a road back towards sobriety and happiness.

Sources:

Clay J, Parker M. Alcohol use and misuse during the COVID-19 pandemic: a potential public health crisis? April 2020. The Lancet Public Health.

 Nanz-Barr et al. Effect of Social Isolation on stress related behavioural and neuroendocrine state in the rat. 2004 (152) Behavioural Brain Research

de Goejj M, Suhrcke M, et al. How economic crises affect alcohol consumption and alcohol-related health problems: A realist systematic review. Social science & medicine. 2015;131:131-46.

Jim’s Addiction Recovery

At nearly 60 years of age, Jim had a realisation that he could have a different life, one without alcohol. This is his addiction recovery story.

Hi, my name’s Jim and I’m about to turn 60 in August and most of my life has revolved around drinking alcohol.

However, in December last year, I had a reckoning about a different life. One without alcohol.

I started drinking from an early age. It was part of my childhood.

My parents weren’t alcoholics, but as a young person, I often had glasses of wine at home with meals (with my parents’ permission) and special events always included a taste of alcohol – birthdays, weddings, any special occasion really.

It so happened that a wedding was the first place I got truly drunk, at the age of 11.

I have two older brothers, seven and ten years older than me.

The oldest brother got married at 21 and we celebrated with an outdoor marquee in the backyard. I was the “barman” for the family, charged with serving guests alcohol.

While performing this duty, I indulged in plenty of booze along the way, got blind drunk and fell asleep under the table, where I remained until the next morning.

Everyone in the family thought that my drunken escapade was all a bit of a laugh. I decided there and then that I really loved alcohol.

When I was fourteen, my parents bought a pub in a regional town. I grew up, and completed, my schooling living in a hotel. It was at that time I started drinking daily.

My parents didn’t seem too concerned – they didn’t see this as excessive.

However, when it came to finishing school, it was a concern. Drinking blunted any motivation that I possessed to achieve anything, especially academically – it followed then that school became quite the struggle.

After school, I entered the workforce, with my mindset totally revolved around socialising. Initially, I worked in the pub for my parents, but when I saw how much fun my friends were having on their weekends off, I decided to look for an alternative career.

I found that in the banking industry, where I stayed sixteen years. I started in our local country bank. Back then, the banks closed at 3pm and by 3:30pm, or 4pm (if we were busy). I’d go straight to the pub to drink. In a country town, that’s what everyone did. It was part of normal life.

Despite my drinking, I did well at the bank, got promoted and moved around a fair bit. I ended up in the Brisbane head office and my job in corporate finance involved a lot of client entertainment, complete with the expense account. All I was interested in was socialising, and drinking.

During my sixteen years of bank work, I got married and had two children, which was a bit of a blur as I drank my life away. I had no ambition, or motivation, except to drink.

Eventually alcohol drove my wife and me apart. I wasn’t really ‘present’ in our marriage or keen to do anything with the kids.

Whether it was work or kids’ sport, I couldn’t wait for it to be over, so I could go home and decompress in the only way I knew how – drink. Even though my marriage was crumbling, I simply didn’t care enough to do anything about it.

I eventually got sick of banking and decided to go back to the hospitality industry, starting at the bottom of the ladder and working my way up. Of course I got involved with pubs.

I managed pubs for twenty years. After my marriage crumbled, I remained single. Not being in another permanent relationship meant that I could preserve my lifestyle.

Living in a hotel meant that even after closing, you never ran out of grog. And when you get further away from capital cities, the rules around hotels begin to loosen. It’s not official, it’s a more unspoken thing.

By December 2019, I was beginning to feel tired and unhappy, particularly at work. I was feeling quite down, but I didn’t know what to do about it, so I did nothing.

Then my second grandchild was born. Even though I hadn’t been that involved with my family at that stage, I still wanted to make contact and visit. I

n order to do so, I needed to ensure that my vaccinations were up to date, so I visited a GP, where I was diagnosed with high blood pressure.

It was sitting in his office that I reflected upon the unhappiness in my job and my drinking.

On the strength of those thoughts, I decided to resign from my job. I had the resources to spend a few months on holiday, so spent a bit of time simply floating around, then went to visit my brother.

I hadn’t had a decent conversation with my brother in years. But somehow in our talking, I got really honest with him about the status of my life. And on the day of that discussion I had my last drink.

It was as if I’d been showered with a flash of divine intervention. In that moment, some how I just “knew” that drinking alcohol wasn’t going to be part of my life moving forward.

My brother supported me, knowing that I’d need support to solidify my decision. We got in touch with Hayden and discussed the process of rehab and I was admitted pretty much straight away.

What struck me was despite working in pubs for so many years, I had no knowledge at all about the disease of alcoholism and how it physically and mentally affects people. I was fortunate that a “cold turkey” withdrawal didn’t produce some of the physical side effects and horror stories that I’ve heard about since I entered rehab.

In fact, I thought that as I drank “top shelf” liquor, that alcoholism only existed for a metho drinker in the park! How wrong I was.

Prior to entering a rehab, I had never attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or done any step work. I seriously didn’t have a clue.

When it came to believing in it and a “higher power” I thought at the time, “we’ll see”.

However, I found my faith in AA, because hearing so many others repeating the same story, mirrored my own thoughts and experiences.

I came to realise that I had been very uncomfortable simply being around other people over the years, preferring to work by myself because I felt nervous, intimidated and insecure.

I lived in blissful ignorance for all those years in addiction. I never thought of looking outwards for a solution. I really understand how it’s often called “self medication”.

In the rehab program, I had a strong sense that we were all there for the same reason. And that environment made me feel more inclined to share my thoughts and open up to other people. It really was a group of people living and working together and really opening up about life.

I came to realise from an early stage that it wasn’t a residential rehab program that was going to save me, but rather, it was what I was going to do in the outside world, such as attend AA, that was going to be the key.

Today, I’m about to finish twelve weeks in the Hader Clinic Queensland’s transitional housing program, and as time has progressed, so has my readiness to re-join the outside world.

I have made firm plans to move to the Sunshine Coast to be near my family – my two sons and their families. I don’t want to live in their pockets, however, I am enjoying the opportunity to properly connect with them. I can’t wait.

The best lesson I have learned is that the fear of everything is what drives us. I feared giving up alcohol because I was scared of craving it. That fear hasn’t been realised.

Today I feel blessed and grateful for my life – and thank the Hader Clinic Queensland for helping me find a future that I can look forward to.

Bridget’s Addiction Recovery

Bridget is on her last day of the residential rehab program completing the transition housing program, which is readying her to get back to work and into the real world. This is her addiction recovery story.

I’m Bridget, and I have just turned 40 – would you believe on my last day of residential rehab at the Hader Clinic Queensland.

My drug of addiction was alcohol.

I started life in a relatively normal family who were social drinkers. Even from a young age, I remember everyone celebrating with a few beverages. I started having a few drinks as a teenager.

At sixteen, I was working in an Art Gallery and I used to help up set up wine and cheese platters for guests and would occasionally dabble in a glass of wine, but for the most part I was a typical teenager, who liked parties and going out.

However, I was always the last person standing at the end. I was always able to outdo my friends when it came to drinking and I assumed that I had quite a tolerance to alcohol. It was thought upon favourably and we used to brag about it.

When I left school, I went straight to university and studied teaching. At university, the expectation seemed to be to party hard and do lots of binge drinking. Nightclubbing was also a big thing and I always had to be the life of the party.

My drinking got heavier, especially around the time of entering into a relationship with my first real boyfriend. He cheated on me. I took it badly. I simply didn’t know how to cope, so I drank to ease the pain. It was my way of self-medicating.

I thought this was a passing phase, rather than a problem as such at the time.

Even when I graduated, I discovered that teachers like to drink a lot. Particularly when you’re doing country service. That was my first posting and we were out west. There’s not much to do, so we’d either hit the pub or sit around in our unit, drinking.

It’s funny, all of this seemed quite normal at the time. We were all doing these types of things.

Eventually I met a new partner, who would go onto be my husband. When things were good, drinking wasn’t an issue. I had something to distract me.

In the beginning, we were social drinkers again. We had a long-distance relationship initially because I was still doing my country service.

Eventually we got married and had two children. I didn’t drink heavily during this period.

Over the course of our marriage, my husband suffered from bouts of anxiety and was prescribed several types of medication to help him. Unfortunately, I often wore the brunt of his reactions to various types of medications and as time went on, I sensed that he was beginning to change.

I had hoped that having the children would bring us closer together. It didn’t. If anything, he seemed quite distant and seemed to be drifting away. I had suspected him of having an affair.

Subsequently, I felt rejected, confused and fearful – and found it hard coping with change in behaviour. These events were the beginning of my descent into alcoholic hell.

People were telling me that my husband was being unfaithful. However, at the time, I wouldn’t have a bar of it. We were married, he was committed to me. It was impossible.

My husband told me that I was being silly, stupid even. It was my drinking that was causing my paranoia.

During this time, I got quite ill, from my excessive drinking. I had a battery of tests run, as the side effects of the alcohol mirrored MS. Naturally, I had been lying to my doctor and other health professionals that I’d been drinking, thinking that I was getting away with it, but it turns out they knew all along.

It transpired that I wasn’t the silly one after all. My husband was found out to be having an affair over several years. He ended up leaving his job.

Finally finding out that my suspicions about his affair were true, I just lost it, propelling myself deeper into my drinking to allay the feelings of betrayal and hurt that were always bubbling at the surface. This included morning drinking, something I’d never done before.

I was drinking in the morning before work, I was drinking at work. Then I’d be hanging out for that space where I could get home and drink.

One day I’d been drinking and my son was at the school where I was working. I took him and my daughter home, picking her up on the way. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had called the police and they turned up on the doorstep with a breathalyser, telling me that somebody had reported me on the suspicion of drink driving.

They breathalysed me and I was found to have a high range blood alcohol reading. I was taken to the police station and eventually had to appear in court, where my licence was suspended for twelve months and I was fined.

Finding out that my husband had done this, not to shock me into reason, but out of spite, did nothing to stop my drinking. Feeling upset and out of control only made things worse.

Then my drink driving charge was published in the paper, as the local court reporter had attended the hearing. Because we lived in a small city, no detail was left unexposed. It caused an uproar, particularly with my work.

Feeling even more traumatised than ever, I drank more. The crazy thing was that I was grateful to be suspended from driving, it would free me up to drink even more at home without any responsibility, plus nobody would be asking me to drive anywhere.

As word got around, he wanted to pack up and leave. However, I was happy where I was and so were the kids.

Reluctantly I gave in and moved for a ‘fresh start’. We moved house again. I had taken leave and my husband was unemployed.

Around Christmas time we went to visit our respective families. My husband took the kids to visit his family for a few days, leaving me with my family so I could spend some extra time with them. I didn’t think anything of it. One afternoon he sent me a text message announcing that after seventeen years together he was leaving me. And that he was taking the children with him. And that he was filing a DVO against me for drinking.

Unbeknownst to me, he had been keeping notes about me so he had ammunition for future court dates. He had taken photographs of me passed out from drinking, and had made detailed notes about my behaviour. He had created a dossier on me and sent it off to the Magistrates Court.

I’m not excusing myself for my addiction, nor rationalising my behaviour, but it was a cold, callous and calculating move deliberately enacted to bring me to my knees. I had always considered marriage a partnership that supported for better or for worse.

Reflecting back, there was little support for “worse” from my ex-husband. He’d sneer and belittle me at any attempts I made to stop drinking, telling me to think of it from his perspective. He threw a leaflet at me about addiction that a family friend gave him and said “do with this what you want”.

When I did manage to string a few days of being clean together, I’d ask him for support, saying, “I haven’t had a drink for two, three days,” and rather than encourage me, he’d say, “what do you want, a badge” and “big deal”.

I’m sorry the kids saw it all though, our arguments, my drinking. I feel horrible that the kids saw me in an intoxicated state. My ex would belittle and undermine my parenting with the kids.

Anyway, he filed the DVO. After several mentions in court, it got thrown out, the judge stating her disbelief that my ex would go to such trouble to keep a file on me, yet could not be bothered to find help for my illness.

That was sixteen months ago.

After that I decided to “try everything” to get clean I tried abstaining, visiting doctors, counsellors, psychologists, the “Alcohol and Other Drugs” services… In addition, I tried medication to control cravings. Nothing would work, or it would only work for a short time.

By that time, I was engaged in a legal battle with my ex and I was living with my parents. Feeling raw, traumatised and depressed, I began to self-isolate and drink to numb the pain.

I was allowed limited access to the kids, just a few phone calls per week. And my ex would manipulate them, telling me that they didn’t want to speak to me or were “too tired” etc.

Not only did my ex manipulate my kids with words, he coerced them to say that they’d prefer to be with their father.

I was distraught. Feeling powerless, desolate and desperate, I reacted in the only way I knew how – I went on a shocking drinking bender. When I came to, horrified, I tried to stop drinking cold turkey. It brought on uncontrollable seizures, which meant a hospital admission.

For the longest time, my doctor and family had been encouraging the idea of rehab. I had straight out refused, as I felt a stigma around rehab and the type of people I’d seen doing rehab on TV. I tried AA in one of the small towns I had lived in but as a meeting had five people and everybody knew everybody else, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about what was ailing me.

Eventually, they said, “you need to go”.

I replied, “what if I go while I’m trying to fight for the kids?”

Their response? “You’re no good to them like this. This is your only shot. You have to fix you before you can look after them”.

Slowly I came to the realisation that it was either go to rehab or die, basically.

Physically, I was feeling terrible. I had back pain, my feet were numb, I couldn’t even hold a cup properly without getting the shakes. I was nauseous and didn’t feel like eating. I had issues with my weight, so in the heyday of my addiction, this was great. But not anymore.

My sister and parents found The Hader Clinic Queensland. Originally, I didn’t want to go, due to the focus on group activities. I wanted to be alone and do individual things.

Anyway, I remember being told on the phone, “it’s not five-star accommodation, but it’s a five-star program”.

I thought, “okay, that’s what I want”.

I walked down the stairs and thought, “you have to be kidding”.

My family made a hasty exit before I could change my mind.

After that moment, I loved it. Rehab is one of the best things I have ever done; It has been one of my most life changing experiences.

Since completing the 90-day program I feel I am still “me”, but not the same person I was before entering rehab. There are some people who I no longer relate to.

It’s been an eye opener for my family also. Nobody could understand why I couldn’t just stop. They struggled because we didn’t realise that alcoholism is a disease. They have a much better understanding now, because they’ve attended Al Anon meetings and have received a lot of literature and education from the Hader Clinic Queensland.

I struggled a bit when I first arrived. Here I was, a teaching professional, in a room with other addicts. “I’m not as bad as them,” I thought. I was really quite judgmental.

It didn’t take long before I realised that I needed to “take the cotton wool out of my ears and put it in my mouth,” to quote one of the support workers. I began to listen, and realised that there were more similarities between us all, rather than differences.

I always feel like I had the potential to suffer from addiction genetically, but it took the trauma of an emotionally abusive marriage to really pull the trigger and unleash it.

When I first got to rehab, I thought that I knew everything. However, the more I go on, I have come to realise that I know very little about how to live without alcohol. Initially I thought that I might go into rehab and skip out after thirty days. I was so delusional that I thought, “maybe I can ‘control drink’”.

Then I was getting closer and closer to the end of rehab and I began to realise that I wasn’t ready to leave. I successfully applied to do the Transition Housing program and it has been just excellent. I needed a bit more hand-holding before I went back out into the real world.

Ninety days were hard, but the hardest part is starting now. I’m so glad that I attended rehab before the COVID crisis hit. Otherwise I would have been self-isolating, drinking myself into a stupor, and watching Netflix. The virus would have been a perfect excuse to indulge in all of those behaviours.

I did have a small taste of freedom before lockdown for a few weeks, but I am so grateful to have come to rehab. I’m in a perfect position, locked down in the transition house with others who are working through the same issues as I am. It’s good to support each other in a difficult time. We’re all doing meetings on Zoom, sometimes together. We’re only required to do one meeting per day, but we often do more than that because there’s no need to travel. You can literally go to a meeting at any time of the day on Zoom. It’s been great.

With addiction, you often feel like you’re alone. I thought that I was going to be the only teacher with this problem, the only person from a broken marriage and the only Mother who lost her children, then you listen to others at meetings, and heck, there are so many women in the same position as me. I hope that I can repay that favour to others who are going through the same struggles as I have and offer them hope.

The staff were all fantastic – everyone helped me in some way. I have to say that although he scared me initially, Mark was great. He was firm, but fair. I really enjoyed his way of dealing with everything that was going on.

I loved the women who were there when I needed a bit of female nurturing. I had great chats with Robyn. I loved her creativity, and her support. If ever I was feeling weak, Donna was great to talk to about being strong and independent.

Of course, I am hoping to reconnect with my children in the future. They know I’m being treated for addiction.

The staffs’ words to me when I was getting worried about what was happening on the outside, were that my kids didn’t save me when I was outside and that I have to sort myself out first. They were right, of course.

This experience has shown me the importance of open-mindedness. When I was teaching I had students whose parents were in rehab. I used to feel embarrassed for them and look down on them. Now I am proud to have completed this program and celebrate recovery.

I have taken leave from teaching. I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, but I’ll work it out. Getting this far has given me a sense that I can do anything I put my mind to. Life is too short not to be doing something you’re passionate about. I feel like the world’s my oyster.

Thank you to The Hader Clinic Queensland for giving me a new lease, and a new start for my life! I’m excited about the next chapter of my life.

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