26 May 2020

Substance abuse, gambling spiked over lockdown

7:36 am on 26 May 2020

Addiction services have reported a rise in drinking, cannabis use and online gambling over the lockdown period.

Teen chugging a beer.

Teen chugging a beer. Photo: 123RF

The NZ Drug Foundation says around 50,000 New Zealanders are currently supported by addiction services, with many groups reporting a recent surge of people seeking online support for the first time.

But while substance abuse appears to have spiked, a rise in the number of people seeking help is also being reported.

"The main reasons they were increasing alcohol and cannabis was because they were feeling anxious or bored," NZ Drug Foundation deputy executive director Ben Birks Ang said.

An increase in online gaming and gambling was also a "real concern" for Sue Paton, executive director of Addiction Practitioners' Association Aotearoa New Zealand.

She said for many people it would be a way to escape and another habit people had picked up.

Lisa Campbell, Head of the Salvation Army Oasis centre which supports more than 300 gamblers across the country, said things would likely get worse in the coming weeks.

"It went up slightly at the beginning and then it dipped. People are now back out there potentially enjoying themselves. That gambling harm is going to start gambling again because people will not be able to control their behaviour."

She said lockdown won't have broken the cycle of addiction.

"Gambling is not a way to escape life's pressures or to make money. The more you gamble the more you use. The odds are against you."

But it wasn't all bad. Other addiction services had seen a decrease in referrals, Birks Ang said.

"We saw a lot of positive stories about people getting support through online networks, dialling into groups."

Alcoholics Anonymous held 220 online weekly meetings for its members during lockdown, replacing the usual face-to-face meetings.

Daily visits to the AA website more than doubled and more people joined their online Zoom meetings than their standard gatherings.

Birks Ang praised support services for helping people and the homeless with their addictions through Covid-19, which will have long term benefits. Many rough sleepers were given accommodation and the stability allowed them to get the support they needed.

"I am really positive that out of this we will be able to support that group [rough sleepers] better. The longer we can keep people housed, the more stability there is in their life to work out the other issues."

Birks Ang said overall it was encouraging and he urged people to continue seeking help.

For more help with drug and alcohol addictions:

  • Call your local alcohol and other drug service to find out what support they provide
  • The Needle Exchange Programme is open with reduced hours
  • AA and NA are using Zoom to meet. Click here for AA's meeting timetable and NA's.
  • Methamphetamine help is also available. Meth Help Counselling Service - 070063844357
  • You can also see Living Sober or Drug Help

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