April 3, 2020

Preventing harm from alcohol and other drugs during COVID-19

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The recent 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 new challenges that the pandemic presents.

Alcohol, drugs and physical distancing

While physical distancing is a key component of slowing the spread of coronavirus, some vulnerable groups, such as people who use or are experiencing a dependence on alcohol and other drugs, might experience disproportionate harms from this measure.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 additional support during this time, but the services they normally rely on are having to change how they interact in order to comply with the physical distancing rules.

Don’t wait – call and access services

Although you may prefer attending a clinic in person, many alcohol and other drug health services are starting to adapt to the current situation and are offering telehealth appointments (consultations over the phone or video call). Some useful links and phone numbers are provided at the end of this article.

Make sure you reach out and talk to someone. Don’t wait for this pandemic to pass, as this could take months.

Set a daily and weekly routine

There are a number of experts and organisations that have provided useful tips on how to stay healthy and look after your mental health while complying with physical distancing rules in your state or territory. 2-4

One of the key actions that you can take is to make a daily and weekly routine to structure your life. It can help to maintain a sense of normalcy, reduce the risk of boredom, keep your attention focused on something, and offer some distractions at a time when you might otherwise have been out and about around other people.

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 the physical distancing period, you may want to call a friend to brainstorm ideas to suit your personal interests. You can also call one of the services listed at the end of this article and talk to them about what you could do.

Maintain personal hygiene and stay safe

People who use alcohol and other drugs may experience particular stressors while maintaining physical distancing, especially 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 to people who use alcohol and other drugs and may need increased support at this time. 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 evolve. 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.

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 following sources to be based on evidence.

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.

Help and Support

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  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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