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During the COVID-19 pandemic, people worldwide have significantly changed their drinking habits, shifting from consuming alcohol in bars and restaurants to drinking at home. For many, alcohol is part of their social lives – and the resulting disruption, together with loss of income and loved ones has increased alcohol consumption, according to a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Malcolm Young, general manager of Durban-based Choose Life Specialist Recovery Centre, said this was definitely happening locally. There had been a massive increase in the number of people seeking help since the pandemic hit.  “We are not only dealing with people battling with existing addictions but also with those who are new to addiction and using various substances to avoid and deal with the pressures of life in the shadow of Covid-19,” he said.

According to the OECD report, alcohol sales increased by 3% to 5% in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States in 2020 compared to 2019. Alcohol sales in bars and restaurants may have plummeted but off-premise sales via ecommerce and retail stores had escalated. For example, in the United States, online sales increased by up to 234%. The OECD also noted that women, parents of young children, people with higher incomes and those with anxiety and depressive symptoms reported the highest increase in alcohol consumption.

Emergency calls as a result of domestic violence, which is closely associated with alcohol consumption, rose by 60% in EU countries. Despite the fact that the South African government attempted to limit alcohol purchases and consumption during the pandemic, the same remains true in South Africa.

“During this period, people have been admitted for addiction as well as depression and anxiety. Alcohol problems, in particular, seem to be on the rise despite bans put in place. We have learned from our patients that, despite the bans, illegal substances are readily available whenever and wherever,” he explained.

According to Young, many of those who had reached out to Choose Life, which is a sister facility to Riverview Manor, a specialist clinic in the Southern Drakensberg, had been searching online for a rehabilitation facility that met their needs.

“We are a private facility where medical aid rates apply. This is the saving grace for people who can afford medical aid. However, there are a lot of enquiries looking for a facility to help overcome addiction by the less fortunate who have no medical aid. This seems to be the true epidemic,” Young said.

Choose Life is rising to the challenges of tackling addiction sparked by the pandemic by providing a full-time rehabilitation programme. Clients can be referred by clinical professionals but attend the centre on a voluntary basis. The centre offers an out-patient programme as well as a 21-day in-house programme. Its holistic approach means that each patient has individual sessions with a social worker and a psychologist as well as group therapy during his or her stay. Supervised detoxification is available to overcome withdrawals.

“This facility accommodates 17 patients. It is big enough to provide individual attention and small enough to ensure that no one gets lost or flies under the radar. We are also able to accommodate outpatients looking to speak to a psychologist by appointment,” Young said. He said that a gym had recently been added to help patients deal with and release stress and anxiety. There are 12 staff members, including two social workers, a psychologist, a house doctor, a psychiatrist, day nurses and night nurses.

“We are dedicated to saving lives and offer our clients effective, professional treatment. Through our specialist staff, co-ordinated approach and intimate groups, we are able to provide clients with the tools to address their addiction during this difficult time,” he said.

Choose Life Specialist Recovery Centre, South Africa’s leading private specialist rehabilitation centre and clinic, (dealing with symptoms of, alcohol, substances, cocaine, rock, opiates, dagga, anxiety, depression, obesity, anorexia, burnout, sex addiction and stress) opened its doors to recovering addicts in 2015. The facility is situated on the Berea in Durban.

By Zambezzi

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