Home Australia DR MAX PEMBERTON: Why working from home is causing an explosion in problem drinking

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Why working from home is causing an explosion in problem drinking

0 comment
The legacy of lockdown is a work-from-home culture which Dr Max says continues to drive a rise in substance abuse and alcoholism.

Drug and alcohol deaths are rising in England and Wales, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

In 2022, substance abuse deaths have risen to almost 13,000 in England and more than 800 in Wales. Both figures represent significant increases compared to pre-pandemic numbers, when the numbers were 10,511 and 667 respectively. The reason? COVID-19. Or, rather, confinement.

Many doctors, myself included, warned that the effects of banning us all from gathering and socializing would last for years into the future, and this is one of them. The whole pandemic nightmare seems like it happened a million years ago. I think many of us have consciously tried to put it behind us and out of our minds.

But when you think back, it was an extraordinary and stressful time. Many people had mental problems and rates of drug and alcohol use skyrocketed. I remember working in A&E in central London and seeing patient after patient arrive with drug overdoses, many of them students trapped in corridors, far from home, alone and isolated.

For some it was the first time they had anything and they were only experimenting because they were bored. Others were regular consumers but had significantly increased their consumption.

The legacy of lockdown is a work-from-home culture which Dr Max says continues to drive a rise in substance abuse and alcoholism.

But it wasn’t just the students.

A toxic combination of office closures and long nights of forced isolation at home meant many seniors had the time and money to go to extremes. And while many recovered and never touched an illegal drug or bottle of vodka again, for some it triggered a more serious and long-lasting addiction that would not have otherwise arisen, meaning they now need long-term treatment.

In fact, when the pandemic ended, I was surprised by the number of people in my clinics telling me that their drinking habits had gotten out of control during lockdown and that they were now effectively alcoholics.

ozempic warning

This week the WHO warned about the dangers of fake versions of weight loss injections like Ozempic. If you get these medicines online, make sure they come from a company regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Council or the CQC.

People who were simply dedicated to controlling it found themselves in the grip of addiction, struggling to know what to do or how to stop doing it. At first they got into the habit of pouring themselves a glass of wine every night. Then, with no work the next morning to curb the habit, that glass gave way to another, and another, and then a bottle.

Now what we are seeing in addiction clinics and hospitals is people who could not stop again when the confinement ended. Friends who work privately in mental health are being inundated with patients desperate for help. In fact, a colleague had to resort to a waiting list, which closed due to demand.

In the service where I work, which cares for people with serious mental health problems, we still receive referrals almost every week in which confinement is mentioned as an aggravating factor or even the very reason for a patient’s problem.

Alcohol abuse can be a slow process and take many years for people to recognize its impact on their health. I suspect that the increase in deaths we are seeing now will be just the tip of the iceberg, as those who fell into addiction never make it out of the quagmire.

But there is also another problem here. For many people, confinement is not over yet. Of course, now we can continue with our lives as before. The days of social distancing, not sitting on park benches and standing in line to get groceries are a distant memory.

But the legacy of lockdown is a work-from-home culture that, in my opinion, is still fueling a rise in substance abuse and alcoholism. When your boss isn’t looking at you and you’re working at the kitchen table within sight of the bottle rack, people get used to having a drink or three after work. They don’t have to go to the pub and risk staying with Brian from the accounts, but can relax on the sofa.

People start drinking earlier in the day. Why not? If you finish your day at 4 pm instead of 6 pm, who looks at you? Starting mid-afternoon means you’re more likely to drink an extra bottle, too.

Frequency is increasing: Instead of having a drink or two after work once or twice a week, patients tell me they drink daily. If you don’t even have to get out of bed, but can log on in your pajamas, do you care if you’re hungover?

The reality of confinement is that it opened a Pandora’s box, but that box was not closed when the pandemic ended. Instead, it was left open by our refusal to return to the office.

It has shown us how people on the brink of a substance problem can fall precipitously into it without the structure of work life. Who knows when we will see the extent of the lockdown madness? To assess the human cost of this social experiment, I suspect we will have to wait years.

What we do know is that unexpected, unpredictable and deeply worrying consequences for the health and well-being of the nation continue to unfold.

In a speech last week, Labor health spokesman Wes Streeting urged the NHS not to “slow down” the recruitment of medical associates – health professionals who care for patients and work alongside doctors, but who do not have the same years of training. The doctors responded by saying that he “is living in a fairy world.”

The row erupted after the Royal College of GPs announced it would halt the employment of personal assistants in GP surgeries until the profession is properly regulated later this year.

My worry is that if Labor comes to power they will struggle to deliver on their promises to fix the NHS. I think Streeting knows this and is aware that a tape solution is to employ more of these “cheap doctors”, which is why he chooses not to listen to the doctors’ concerns.

Wills is lucky to have Carole

Carole Middleton pictured with her husband Michael as they attend the second day of this year's Royal Ascot earlier this week.

Carole Middleton pictured with her husband Michael as they attend the second day of this year’s Royal Ascot earlier this week.

Many women will have seen Carole Middleton, the mother of the Princess of Wales, get stuck in the grass at Royal Ascot last week and will have sympathized with her plight.

But how nice that the person who came to her rescue was her son-in-law, Prince William, who, with his hand outstretched, helped her steady herself as she freed her shoe. We all know how complicated her life can be with her in-laws. And yet, sometimes they provide an alternative type of family to our own that is welcome.

William is said to consider Carole a second mother. Of course, he lost his loved ones at a tender age, so Carole can represent that mother figure that she lacks.

The Middletons also give him a glimpse of the kind of normal life he’s never had. Embracing a new family, with its different perspectives and traditions, can be very healthy and help us thrive.

Dr. Max prescribes…

Sympathy for summer sneezes

1719214403 787 DR MAX PEMBERTON Why working from home is causing an

Has hay fever affected you? It seems bad this year. I’ve never suffered from it before, but this year I’m struggling. In fact, as I write this, I have a box of tissues next to me because I can’t stop sneezing.

I confess that it makes me a little ashamed. For years my sister has suffered from hay fever and I have had little compassion. However, now that I have it, I know the misery it can bring. This goes to show that sometimes you have to experience something yourself to understand what it is like.

You may also like