This year we have become used to hearing phrases such as ‘Stay at home – save lives’ and ‘Stay at home – stay safe’. However for families affected by someone else’ alcohol or drug use, this is not the case. Home can be a place of heightened risk and harm, a situation worsened by the COVID pandemic.
Since March, levels of alcohol and drug use have increased across Scotland. There are many reasons for this, including changing work and leisure patterns, stress and anxiety and a reduction in support services and networks. Some families were already concerned about their loved one’s substance use, however for others this is a new experience. For example substance use previously happening outside the home has moved into the home, family members are more likely to be present, and previously recreational substance use has increased to harmful levels. For these families, substance use has become substance harm.
Today Scottish Families is releasing ‘Lockdown and beyond: A COVID Insights report’ which includes:
- Open letters from family members and staff, reflecting on their experiences;
- Our national Helpline trends, including an 80% increase in contacts (more on this below);
- Insights into the impact on families of having to Stay at Home;
- Ways to reach families using digital and virtual support;
- Steps we have taken to ensure families have stayed supported and connected.
Justina Murray, CEO, stated:
“This has been a difficult year for most people in Scotland, however it has been devastating for families affected by someone else’s alcohol and drug use. They have been stuck at home for long periods, having to cope with the impact of increased substance use and relapse. For some, this was an existing issue which has become worse, while for other, issues have come to light just because everyone has been at home together, and substance use can no longer be concealed.
Families have not been able to escape in the usual ways, whether that is going out to work or Uni, meeting up with friends or family, or attending a local support group. And there is ongoing difficulty accessing alcohol and drug treatment (and mental health) services, leaving families managing challenging and high risk situations with minimal outside support. All of this has taken place largely out of sight and with little recognition of the impact on families’ wellbeing.”
Key Insights – Helpline
- Our Helpline contacts have increased 80% over the past year (comparing 18 March to 30 November 2020 with the same period in 2019), spiking as high as a 140% increase in March, and never falling below a 50% increase).
- This includes a 34% increase in contact from family members, and a 244% increase in contact from people seeking support for their own alcohol and drug use.
- We have seen a 122% increase in concerns about alcohol, 120% increase in concerns about benzodiazepines (street Valium/ Diazepam) and a 42% increase in concerns about cocaine.
- People seeking support for their own use are coming to our families Helpline as they are unable to reach their own treatment services, or are unable to find out what treatment is available in their own local community. This pattern has been sustained since March.
- Our Helpline contacts were already moving away from voice-based contacts (phone calls) to non-voice (predominantly webchat and email), however this trend has rapidly increased this year. Only 1 in 5 of Helpline contacts are now over the phone (20% compared to 29% last year) and three-quarters are non-voice (75% compared to 64% last year).
- Yet alcohol and drug treatment services (having largely removed face-to-face drop-in options) continue to rely heavily on phone-based contact. This does not suit those without phone credit (our Helpline is Freephone) or privacy to make a call, or those in urgent need who cannot just leave a voicemail and wait for a call back (which may not come). Non-voice options such as webchat and email should be provided as standard, to offer individuals a discreet and accessible route to treatment.
Key Insights – Staying at Home
- Less than a quarter (23%) of family members accessing our local family support services reported that COVID has had no effect on their situation.
- 46% felt it had negatively impacted on their mental health, 42% reported feeling more anxious than before, 29% said they were finding it harder to keep in touch with supportive family and friends, 21% said they can’t access services which help them cope.
- 21% of family members said their loved one had become more verbally abusive, 10% felt more concerned about their safety and 4% said their loved one had become more physically abusive.
- Family members are concerned that increased risk is being brought into the home through their loved ones not respecting the guidelines on household mixing, social distancing or hygiene.
- Families have reported a significant increase in police attending family homes due to conflict, threatening behaviour and domestic violence; social work and child protection involvement; and family breakdown, including couple splitting up and the sudden, unplanned departure of young people or adult children.
- A further 10% of young people supported through our Routes project were formally accommodated away from their family home during lockdown, due to family breakdown and risk of harm.
Key Insights – Our Response
Since 18 March 2020 Scottish Families has:
- Responded to 1680 people contacting our Helpline seeking support for themselves or their loved one;
- Provided 52 digital devices, benefitting 188 wider family members, to ensure families can access support and stay connected;
- Offered a busy programme of free, online wellbeing activities, including our Connect, Communicate, Learn and Thrive #CCLT2020 Festival which reached families from 27 of 32 local authority areas;
- Delivered 1,149 #StayInTheHoose wellbeing packs to young people and adult family members;
- Funded 190 hours of additional counselling for family members under pressure;
- Posted out 155 Take Home Naloxone kits to family members and others through our new ‘Click and Deliver’ service, so far reaching all but two local authority areas
Many thanks to our funders for supporting our COVID response programme.