Leading psychologists are warning Australians to be wary of their alcohol consumption during isolation after a recent poll found a drastic spike in substance use as people are struggling to cope with the current effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

Members of the Australian Association of Psychologists (AAPi) are urging Australians to seek help for their mental health and wellbeing due to a worrying increase in not just alcohol, but also tobacco, online gambling, cannabis and prescription drug use.

The YouGov Galaxy poll surveyed 1045 Australians and found 70 per cent of people are drinking more than usual, while a third are drinking every day.

Executive Director of AAPi, Tegan Carrison, said in a press release that an increase in alcohol consumption could cause harm to the individual, as well as the people isolating with them.

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“Personal relationships come under pressure when there are high levels of drinking and add to that all the stress accompanying COVID-19 and you have a recipe for disaster,” she said.

“There is increased risk of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, youth violence, elder abuse and violence against children as well as increases the number of accidents.

“People are using different ways to cope during this incredibly difficult time. We want to remind individuals and our communities that some of these methods can cause short- and long-term harm, and that there is help available so they can stay mentally well.”

Adults are advised to drink less than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on one day to reduce alcohol-related harm to themselves and others.

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Experts are also recommending two alcohol-free days a week to give the body time to detox from alcohol and give vital organs a break.

The impact of alcohol and narcotics on the immune system can also significantly impair the body’s ability to fight infections, which is concerning due to potential risks of contracting COVID-19.

However, while the physical health effects occurring due to alcohol consumption are bountiful, psychologists are most concerned about how this increase affects people’s mental health.

A registered psychologist and board member of AAPi, Ann Marie Collins, told Star Observer that Australians are gradually changing their drinking habits and advised people to understand the gradually escalating behaviours behind addiction.

“We’ve seen an increase of people drinking daily when they haven’t done that before,” she said

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“People who once drank socially are now drinking daily, which is worrying as it slowly becomes a coping strategy which wasn’t needed before due to this pandemic.

“That’s problematic because that’s the thing with alcohol or any addictive substance, it can creep, and that’s really how addiction forms.”

Collins also urged all Australians to consider seeking support from a professional, especially during a time of significant uncertainty and separation of support systems.

“People think they need to have a psychological problem before they see a psychologist, but they’re trained to help people and understand, in a positive way, what they’re feeling and how to acknowledge it,”

“I’d encourage people to get online and have a look at people you can contact to get you set up with a referral and the appointment. Even going to one appointment and making the decision after can really provide clarity.”

ACON’s AOD Program Delivery Manager, Joël Murray, told Star Observer that while no data is available regarding an increase in substance abuse among the LGBTQI community, ACON will continue to provide support services for those struggling with addiction.

Murray also advised that alcohol and substance use is multi-varied in individuals, and assured community members that the majority of substance use occurs without harm.

“For those members of our community who experience harmful or dependent patterns of substance use, ACON is continuing to provide our Substance Support counselling service,” they said.

“ACON’s needle and syringe programs which provide sterile injecting equipment to people who inject drugs remain open in Sydney, Newcastle and Lismore.

“ACON recognises that there are a variety of patterns of substance use in our communities.

“Substance use occurs on a spectrum from experimental and recreational use, through to dependent use.

“While our communities use substances at a higher rate compared to the general population, much of this use occurs with minimal or no harm.”

 

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