LOCKDOWN has seen more people in Dumbarton, the Vale and the surrounding area drinking at harmful levels in their homes - and the chief executive of a local alcohol charity says she’s worried that the return of more severe restrictions will only make the situation worse.

Mags Mackenzie from the Dumbarton Area Council on Alcohol (DACA) says the organisation has seen a huge rise in referrals during the pandemic.

A total of 11 referrals across West Dunbartonshire in May jumped to 41 in June – and though the figure has fallen since then, it remained in the high 20s for both July and August.

Mags told the Reporter the charity has also seen higher than normal rates of relapse as people revert back to old habits.

She said: “We have seen an increase in our referral rates since May, but we view it as positive that people recognise when their drinking is becoming problematic and ask for support.

“We’ve also seen higher than normal rates of relapse within our community, as people find their support structures and coping mechanisms are disrupted or unavailable, and so revert back to old, bad habits.”

Last week, a study found that the number of people drinking excessively has almost doubled since just before Scotland’s lockdown in late March this year.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) said an estimated 8.4 million people drank “high-risk” amounts of alcohol in June, compared to 4.8 million people four months earlier.

Mags continued: “This study shows one of the unintended consequences of lockdown – that more people are drinking alcohol at harmful levels.

“The combination of heightened anxiety about the disease, the loss of structure and routine, the isolation of lockdown and the added responsibilities of home schooling or caring experienced by many households, are all known to be triggers to more frequent and unrestrained drinking.

“Home drinking is generally less controlled than when we’re out drinking in a bar or restaurant.

“There are no measures, no accountability and, even with minimum unit pricing, the impact on your wallet from a heavy session is likely to be less.”

DACA has continued to provide services since lockdown restrictions were enforced, using phone-based support and online communication platforms such as Zoom to communicate, as well as picking up and delivering prescriptions and making up and delivering wellbeing packages and activity packs.

The Scottish Government has recognised the extra pressures that Covid-19 is having on all aspects of health and wellbeing, allocating an extra £100 million to the social care sector over the summer, with a further £1.1billion additional funds to help the sector’s response to the pandemic through the winter.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said: "Although it might temporarily make us feel relaxed and happy, as we drink more it can have actually have the opposite effect, making us feel more stressed and anxious.

“Unfortunately the stresses we are experiencing aren’t necessarily going to go away soon and there’s a real concern people may continue with these habits. We need to make sure that people can get ready access to the help they need to address patterns of drinking which may place them at increased risk.”