Online support replaces face-to-face AA meetings during lockdown.

Greta Stonehouse, Australian Associated Press

A woman recovering from addiction has found a surprising amount of solace online after her 12-step group transformed all their face-to-face meetings following lockdown in NSW.

To comply with social distancing laws to curb the coronavirus contagion, her daily inner Sydney meetings are now all hosted via video conference.

She’s now connecting with people all around Australia and recently joined a group in Los Angeles.

“This process has opened up more connections for me than I’ve ever had before,” she told AAP.

“It’s become clear for me in this time of crisis, that connection has always been the opposite of addiction,” she said.

“The more people I connect with, the further away I feel from going back to active addiction.”

“Yes I have to isolate but that doesn’t mean I need to be lonely.”

Alcohol sales have risen by more than 20 per cent compared with the same time last year, according to Commonwealth Bank data.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation acknowledged stockpiling and panic-buying of alcohol as lockdown measures were put into place is cause for concern.

Chief executive Erin Lalor said she was worried more people would start drinking alcohol to cope with all the uncertainty, according to her statement in March.

Real Drug Talk founder Jack Nagle said the images of people lining the streets in front of bottle shops showed problem drinking during times of isolation was inevitable.

But Mr Nagle says it was well and truly time the alcohol and other drugs sector better utilised technology to reach more people.

“For so long this sector has been so far behind,” he told AAP.

“This is a good initiative to force providers to utilise the tools we have in the modern day.”

After working in a Melbourne rehab centre, Mr Nagle found physically removing people from their lives, away from their jobs and sense of purpose, did not suit some people’s recovery.

“While I was running some of the bigger rehabs I thought for every one person we helped we missed about thirty others.”

“Recovery is not an event that happens over 90 days, it’s a change in your lifestyle, and that’s what people need help with.”

Jack Nagle

“Recovery is not an event that happens over 90 days, it’s a change in your lifestyle, and that’s what people need help with.”

By using tools online, people can maintain working or doing something that gives them purpose and routine in their life, while getting help for addiction too. 

He acknowledges that face-to-face services should never be fully replaced once lockdown restrictions are eased, but said people in regional and remote parts of Australia would benefit from more telephone and video options.

For LGBTQ people experiencing harmful alcohol and drug use during isolation, extra resources have been made available online by ACON, a health organisation which specialises in sexuality and gender diversity.

Factsheets will be released over the next two weeks with a particular focus on harm reduction and COVID-19 prevention.

Mr Nagle says physically isolating humans away from each other, with so many people losing their jobs, was the “perfect storm” for addictive behaviour. He hopes flexible recovery options remain after coronavirus lockdown measures are lifted.

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