Alcohol and other drug use
Anecdotally, the consumption of alcohol has increased in the community as a way people, including parents, may look to cope with the stress, loneliness and financial worries of isolation. This has been evidenced by the 30% increase in online alcohol sales in Australia since the beginning of social restrictions, which reveals not only a change in drinking venue but also an increase in consumption. A longitudinal study of over 3200 people published in June 2020 found Australians reported drinking more during the pandemic than two to three years previously (Clun and McCauley, 2020). The peer-reviewed report, by the Australian National University with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, found in May 2020 that 22.8% of women reported an increase in drinking since the start of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and 17.9% of men reported an increase.
Generalist services are likely to see parents who have increased alcohol and/or drug use, in many instances affecting their relationships with their children. Drug and alcohol treatment services are preparing for increases in referrals following the pandemic as a result of this change in drinking habits.
Dawn Bainbridge, Manager of Residential Services for Karralika Programs (a specialist drug and alcohol treatment service) in Canberra said that the coronavirus has required new ways of supporting parents to continue to provide safe and nurturing environments for their children, while addressing their drug and alcohol issues.
Karralika’s Family Program has been supporting parents and children for over 30 years. It is one of very few AOD residential rehabilitation programs in the country where parents can address their substance use and have their children stay with them.
Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the restrictions placed on school and childcare operations, parents and children have spent more time together, which can be both positive and challenging. Karralika has adapted their program to provide support to families who have remained with them in residence; and has offered online and phone support for those who have returned to the community for quarantine purposes.
“We have used technology in ways that have allowed parents and other residents in our residential programs to engage with the therapeutic community program virtually,” Ms. Bainbridge explained. “We have made changes to the way programs are being delivered, and have been able to work with resident and non-resident parents who continue to do well with managing to get children into regular routines regarding mealtimes, play times and naps and to manage home schooling, in some cases for children of different ages.”
Ms. Bainbridge says that asking parents specifically about all aspects of their child’s life is a part of their regular service delivery anyway. However, she says it has been wonderful to see how well the parents that are part of their family program have managed their recovery coupled with full-time parenting whilst in isolation in the community, especially considering the lack of day-care for young children and additional home-schooling requirements for older kids.
“Having more time to spend focusing on the specific needs of children who are part of our service has been really positive for the parents,’ Ms Bainbridge said. ‘Parents have been very willing to have these conversations when asked about their children’s social and emotional wellbeing, and have remained connected and indeed, have sought out the support that the service provides both for drug and alcohol recovery and for parenting.”
Ms. Bainbridge said that the learnings from this pandemic, and what comes next, have been as positive as they have been challenging, for individuals, families and for Karralika Programs. “Our resolve to hear the voice of children, and to support positive family relationships and connection to community is even stronger.”