Alcohol sick in the pandemic

Many alcoholics seek help from addiction counseling centers. The need grows with increasing contact poverty, worry about the job, fear of the future. An alcoholic and a social therapist report

A Forsa survey showed: Every fourth person with alcohol problems has been drinking even more since Corona

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Christiane Ludwig appears happy, energetic, positive. She is an alcoholic. For many years. The 55-year-old has undergone detoxification, inpatient therapies, relapses, and group and individual discussions. She's still working on herself. "I've been dry and stable for a year. But it always accompanies you. You have to stick with it," describes the mother of three adult children. "When I got out of the clinic at the end of March, the lockdown was gruesome."

The family was always behind her. The support provided by the Blue Cross addiction counseling service was also very central to her - an important point of contact for her for four years. "I wouldn't have made it otherwise." During the lockdown, she spoke to her addiction counselor in Wuppertal in video chats. The drug commissioner of the federal government, Daniela Ludwig (CSU), also emphasizes the importance of the support offers in the Corona crisis. The addiction help services should be maintained for November, despite the renewed tightening of restrictions.

Some numb their excessive demands with alcohol

In fact, inquiries are increasing month by month in the pandemic, reports social therapist Fabienne Kroening. "We have a lot of new admissions. Quite a number of people have contacted us for the first time. And some clients, who we usually see every two weeks, now want to speak to us two or three times a week." Countless were out of whack in the Corona crisis.

The problems of those seeking help are growing. All groups and professions are represented among the clients. What is striking among the women is that many do helping jobs, for example as nurses, as Kroening observes. They put their own needs behind for a long time and then numbed their excessive demands with alcohol.

"Many have withdrawn, are lonely, are not lucky enough to have a family or a job." Cultural institutions, libraries, some information boards, sports clubs were or are now closed again. "There are no social contacts," says Kroening. "Many alcoholic people are stuck in their own four walls." For some, a red rag. "Actually, they prefer to be outside, are looking for distraction and need a structured daily routine." That has been wobbling for months. Existential fears and a lack of prospects grow.

Dependent on reliable support

Kroening says: "We have more and more misery and bad cases in the pandemic. People announce their suicide, that they want to drink until it is over. We provide crisis intervention." For their often desperate clientele, the approaching dark season is also critical. The workload of addiction counseling is growing rapidly, there is a lack of staff. Advice centers feared cuts in funding.

That would be fatal, says Ludwig too. An alcoholic person needs reliable professional support. She knows what she's talking about. In 2013 and 2016 she had undergone detoxification. Then she was in an inpatient motivational therapy in a clinic. "In between two years I was dry and thought, now I can allow myself a controlled drinking. But that went totally in my pants." Another stay in hospital followed. In 2019 she struggled with withdrawal symptoms, trembled, and could barely walk. "I thought I was dying." Addiction help is a constant, she is in good hands there.

Her alcohol problem started in 2002, when she found a close friend dead in his apartment. She was followed by constant panic attacks, says the teacher. "I thought alcohol was the best medicine because it made me calmer." But the urge to reach for the bottle became overwhelming. She appeals to other alcoholics not to curl up out of shame, to be open to their own problems, to go out. "We are alcoholic, but our life is not over." She herself wants to work in the social sector again soon.

Alcohol addiction is a chronic condition

In the pandemic, the German Central Office for Addiction Issues (DHS) identified worries about work and future, psychological stress, isolation and domestic conflicts as reasons for growing alcohol problems, as expert Christina Rummel says. Many of the addiction counseling centers nationwide - around 400 in North Rhine-Westphalia - are underfunded, according to DHS 1300. The pandemic exacerbates this. On November 4th, a "day of action on addiction advice" under the patronage of the commissioner Ludwig is to draw attention to the importance of the offers.

A survey by Forsa from October showed: Around a quarter of people with already problematic alcohol consumption have been drinking even more since Corona. Another study revealed an increase in alcohol consumption in a third of around 3,000 adults surveyed since the crisis.

Kroening knows: "Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease." It is not going away, but it can be brought under control. The advice centers wanted to provide support. "Our greatest concern would be if we could no longer offer this aid for financial reasons."