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Priory expert explains why the current lockdown can ‘unlock’ triggers for recovering addicts – and what they can do

  • There are currently over half a million adults living the UK who are said to be ‘alcohol dependent’

  • The WHO has issued advice warning those suffering from anxiety that ‘alcohol is an unhelpful coping strategy during lockdown’

  • Off-licences deemed “an essential retailer” as part of lockdown laws

  • Experts say: ‘Keeping a dry house will be more important now than ever, especially while you’ll be isolated in your home’

Priory psychotherapist Pamela Roberts, addiction therapy manager at Priory’s Woking Hospital in Surrey, has spoken out during the first weeks of enforced ‘social distancing’ in the UK, warning that for addicts and their friends and families the process of recovery from addiction will become more challenging during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Addiction is an illness, which is often but wrongly portrayed as a choice and this can make life very difficult,” she said. “The pandemic is going to be a difficult and testing time for everyone, and for addicts and those in recovery, planning for the situation you’re in is going to be the best way of keeping yourselves safe – so dig out recovery plans and relapse prevention guides. You will need to call on all your support networks during this time.”

As part of her advice to recovering addicts who are likely to be feeling increased anxiety and pressure during the current pandemic, with the associated loss of routine and support networks, Pamela Roberts suggests:

  • Keep in touch remotely with your ‘buddy’ group wherever you can. People in recovery for addiction will have been advised to have ‘peers’ also in recovery, above and beyond their family and friends. These peers understand addiction and can offer valuable support. Keep in touch with them in whatever way you can – Facetime, phone, online. It not only connects you, an individual, to a supportive community network, but it also provides a safe haven to return to, with people around who are empathetic, non-judgmental and always there to listen and support. Being part of a group which fosters these qualities is so important

  • Use calming phone apps to help you focus for a while on something other than your triggers. Manage stress and anxiety using meditations, and links to other resources.

  • If not already connected, reach out to organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step fellowships who offer online meetings. Online meetings offer you an opportunity to continue finding support in the fellowship as well as connecting with current and new fellowship peers.

  • Online meetings may also help you to find structure when your normal routine has been disrupted. The fellowships are working hard to ensure these are still manned, and it’s worth keeping their numbers close to hand as another link in your support system.

Pamela urges those in recovery; “Try to see this time as a time to embark upon a complete overhaul in terms of body, mind and spirit.

“Focus on the following factors: Nutrition – the benefits of certain food and drinks, and what should be avoided, sleep hygiene – re-learn how to care for yourself so you get plenty of restorative sleep, Yoga and meditation are therapies that the Priory recommends and are all designed to promote calmness. Remember that abstinence is the key to recovery and stay focused.”

When making your COVID-19 recovery plan, Pamela also suggests those in recovery consider the following pragmatic tips:

  • “Keeping a dry house will be more important now than ever, especially while you’ll be isolated in your home. Keep your safe place alcohol free and put one more barrier between you and a relapse.


  • “Prioritise your daily disciplines. Many of you will be working from home or looking after children at home, and it will be easy for daily disciplines to fall away, but they’re more important now than ever. Taking a few minutes to do a daily reading or write a gratitude list may be the thing that helps you keep your mind focused.


  • “Reflect on how you take care of yourself. It might feel easy to stay in your PJs all day and not shower or brush your teeth because you’re not going anywhere, but it won’t make you feel great. Try to stick to normal routines and see this as an opportunity to improve your self-care, not to abandon it.


  • “Keep HALT in mind. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). It would be easy to see this as an opportunity to stay up late and let disciplines like regular meals and healthy eating wait for when the world is back to normal. Don’t take the bait. Do your best to keep to your normal bedtimes and wake times, eat as normally as you can and keep reaching out to avoid loneliness.


  • “Be aware of cross addiction. Being stuck in the house may afford you a lot of time to engage in ‘acting out’ behaviours. Be aware of what feel like healthy boundaries and what doesn’t, and if you aren’t sure, check it out with someone.


  • “Be wary of social media. People’s emotions are at a high at the moment, whether that means they’re feeling very positive or very negative. If this is likely to make you feel worse, take this as an opportunity to do a digital detox and stay away from social media.


  • “Plan your time. Being in your house for long periods of time could lead to boredom which can be a big trigger. Think about all the hobbies you’ve always wanted to take up and all the things you’ve always wanted to learn and take this as an opportunity to do so. Plan your days around recovery resources.


  • “Be realistic about your triggers. We know you love your children, your spouse or whoever else you live with, but spending 24/7 with anyone will naturally lead to feelings like frustration, anger and irritability. Talk to the people around you about it and plan for this – is it realistic for you to take 10 minutes away from the kids and leave them with your spouse if they’re driving you crazy? If you and your spouse are both working from home, is it possible to work in different rooms to give you both some space?


  • “Be aware of your emotions. This is an unsettling time, to say the least. Emotions are running high and the world can be a bit scary right now. You may have to be in isolation, but you are not alone. Reach out and talk to people.”


  • “And final, much like everyone in the UK coming to terms with this new normal and the impact on daily life… try to take one day at a time.”


  • We’re here. Another number you should keep close at hand is Priory. We’re here to support you in every way that we can. Any ex-patients of the Priory will have access to Priory’s Thrive app, which you can download on your phone. On the app you’ll find ways to help and manage stress and anxiety including meditations, and links to other resources.



Notes to editors:

Photo of Pamela Roberts attached

AA: 0800 9177 650

or you can contact them by email on

NA: 0300 999 1212

CA: 0800 612 0225

Gamcare Helpline: 0808 8020 133

You can also access the AA Big Book online for free, either as a website or to download as an app.

For family members, Al-Anon also offers support for family members of loved ones who are addicted

About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into three divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, and adult care. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.

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