July 22, 2021

Preventing harm from alcohol and other drugs during COVID-19

man with dog on beach at sunrise

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in widespread global action by governments to reduce the spread of the virus.

This article provides some tips on how people who use alcohol and other drugs may be able to tackle the challenges from the ongoing pandemic.

Alcohol, drugs and social distancing

While social distancing is important to slow the spread of coronavirus, this measure to protect us might affect some groups of people more than others. This could include people who use alcohol and other drugs, or who are experiencing a dependence on these substances.1,2

Harms may include increased use, worsening of existing health conditions, increased risk of overdose, increased risk of infection from non-sterile equipment, exposure to crowded environments such as treatment centres and increased risks of respiratory illness due to underlying health conditions.1

People may also be seeking more support during this time, but the services they normally rely on have changed how they interact in order to comply with the physical distancing rules.

Don’t wait – call and access services now

Although you may prefer attending a clinic in person, many alcohol and other drug health services have adapted to the pandemic and are offering telehealth appointments (consultations over the phone or video call). Some useful links and phone numbers are provided below.

Make sure you reach out and talk to someone, don’t wait. 

Set a daily and weekly routine

One of the key actions that you can take is to make a daily and weekly routine to structure your life. It will help you look after your physical and mental health in a time of constantly changing restrictions. 

Having a routine creates a sense of normalcy, reduces boredom, keeps your attention focused on something, and offers some distractions at a time when being social isn’t possible. 2-4

A daily routine may include:

  • Basics. Making the bed, having a shower, getting dressed for the day.
  • Nutrition. Eating regular, healthy meals.
  • Hydration. Drinking plenty of water.
  • Sleep. Going to sleep and waking up at regular times. Stick to a set sleep routine, such as putting your phone away 30 mins before bed, having a cup of tea or doing something else relaxing.
  • Sunshine. Getting outside in your garden or neighbourhood for some exercise and sun can also help your sleep and mood.

A weekly routine may include:

  • Social connection. Incorporating contact with friends or family on a regular basis, using phone or video calls when isolation requires it.
  • Health. Liaising with health services and organising regular appointments in the week to maintain physical and mental health needs.
  • Meal planning. Writing up your meal plan for the next week. This can help keep you on track with nutrition, and advance planning will reduce the number of times you’ll need to go out to shop.
  • Fun. Getting back into an old hobby or picking up a new one that you can do from home, watching movies you’ve always meant to, catching up on shows you missed, picking up the book you never finished, getting a new eBook online, or playing some online games. How about trying creative activities like writing, drawing, painting or making music?

If you are struggling to come up with ideas on what you can do to stay occupied, healthy and safe during social distancing periods, you may want to call a friend to brainstorm. 

You can also call one of the services listed below and talk to them about what you could do.

Maintain personal hygiene and stay safe

People who use alcohol and other drugs may experience extra stress while maintaining physical distancing. Especially for people experiencing homelessness, or people who rely on harm minimisation services such as needle and syringe programs or medically supervised injecting rooms.1,4

If you are one of these people, you may require additional support to protect yourself from COVID-19 and the increased risk of alcohol and other drug-related harms as a result.

Harm reduction services are available in each state and territory, providing advice and support. See below for contact details.

Stay informed

One of the key aspects of looking after yourself during this health crisis is to stay informed about relevant public health measures as they change. 

This means that it is important to check reliable, evidence informed sites regularly and know what you can do to stay safe.

The Australian Government’s latest COVID-19 updates

More information on alcohol and other drugs during the pandemic

Australian alcohol and drug information services

The following state and territory-based services offer over-the-phone counselling support, information and referral relating to alcohol and other drug use.

  • ACT: (02) 5124 9977
  • NSW: Sydney metropolitan 02 9361 8000. Regional and rural NSW 1800 422 599.
  • NT: 1800 131 350
  • QLD: 1800 177 833
  • SA: 1300 131 340
  • TAS: 1800 250 015
  • VIC: DirectLine: 1800 888 236 (Counselling and referral),
    DrugInfo: 1300 85 85 84 (Information)
  • WA: 1800 198 024

Harm minimisation services

The following services offer information and support to people who use alcohol and other drugs, including tips on how to stay safe during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Reliable evidence-based information updates

For regular updates on COVID-19, you can rely on the Australian Government health alert site.

Additional support

  • National Alcohol and Other Drug hotline
    1800 250 015
    Get help for alcohol and other drug issues.
  • 1800RESPECT
    1800 737 732
    National free, 24/7 hotline for anyone experiencing or at risk of domestic violence.
  • Lifeline
    13 11 14
    24/7 Crisis and suicide support service.
  • Men's Referral Service
    1300 766 491
    Help for men to stop using family violence.
  • Mensline Australia
    1300 789 978
    Support for men with family and relationship difficulties.
  • Parentline Victoria
    13 22 89
    Support for parents, 8am to midnight 7 days a week.
  1. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. The implications of COVID-19 for people who use drugs (PWUD) and drug service providers Europe 2020 [cited 2020 March, 31].
  2. Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. Physical distancing and other transmission reduction measures - coronavirus (COVID-19) Victoria 2020 [cited 2020 March, 31].
  3. Australian Government Department of Health. Head to Health - COVID-19 Support 2020 [cited 2020 March, 31].
  4. Turning Point. Support during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak 2020 [cited 2020 March, 31].

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