A multi-agency action plan to cut alcohol-related harm is ramping up following an increase in drinking fuelled by COVID-19-induced anxiety, social isolation and job uncertainty.
Created in partnership with the Canterbury District Health Board, the Police and the Christchurch City Council, the Christchurch Alcohol Action Plan (CAAP) focuses on reducing alcohol harm across the community.
Co-funded by the Health Promotion Agency (HPA), CAAP provides a united approach to alcohol-related problems, targeting the non-regulated drinking environments and working with a range of organisations and groups.
Council Community Partnerships and Planning Manager Gary Watson says that many people have felt a lack of support and found it difficult to get help for drinking-related problems during the lockdown period.
“In response, we are bolstering support for CAAP by appointing a specialist co-ordinator to drive the cultural change needed to target alcohol abuse and the widespread associated harm,” he says.
“Some people have felt a loss of control as COVID-19 disrupts our normal, everyday lives, prompting a return to a greater reliance on alcohol and the resulting damage to physical and mental health and well-being. Many still feel cut off socially, hurt by a loss of earnings or still working at home and missing the company of co-workers.
“All these factors have contributed to an increase in alcohol-related issues, causing a range of impacts on families, friends and the local community, and prompting the need for greater support.”
Mr Watson says that an experienced co-ordinator, Hayley Edgerton, will support the CAAP objectives and aim to enlarge the plan’s impact and reach.
“Hayley will help deliver the plan’s united and evidence-informed voice and positive approach to minimising alcohol-related harm,” he says.
Ms Edgerton previously coordinated the establishment of Toolkit training at Odyssey House – a social enterprise that delivers alcohol and drug education in Christchurch.
She says that alcohol harm not only affects an individual but is also “greatly amplified by the impact on family and friends, along with the wider community”.
“While some members of the community reported a reduction in alcohol use during lockdown, according to an HPA study one in five individuals reported increased levels of alcohol use – often with the justification that it helped them to relax or switch off,” she says.
“A sudden loss of face-to-face contact with family, friends and co-workers, coupled with the fear of the unknown have put a lot of pressure on people.”
Ms Edgerton says that with the ongoing fallout from COVID-19, “there is real concern that these behaviours will continue or increase – especially with post-lockdown easier access to alcohol and its accepted status as a drug of choice for many”.
“Nobody involved in this plan is suggesting that there no place for alcohol. However we must be aware of the unintended consequences that it can, and does have, especially in times of uncertainty,” she says.
The Christchurch Alcohol Action Plan’s targeted measures include ensuring organisations are working collectively, empowering communities and organisations to implement strategies and supporting agencies to channel resources to where they will have the most impact.