Drinking, mental health and the pandemic: three stories from service users

November 2020 | 8 minutes

In this blog, three members of Alcoholics Anonymous share their stories about drinking, mental health and the pandemic.

Pablo's story

"The only plan I had to deal with this [gnawing feeling of emptiness], for many years, was to blot it out and drown it in the booze."

“I had my last drink on 26 December 2003. It had been a difficult twelve months as I was living alone, for the first time in many years, having been asked to leave a long- term relationship as a result of my behaviour whilst drinking. I was 40 years old, despairing, lonely and troubled by dark, intrusive thoughts. These were not new feelings. Since my teens I was aware of a gnawing feeling of emptiness - like I didn’t belong. This aloneness was there not just when I was physically by myself, but even when I was at work or in social situations surrounded by people.

The only plan I had to deal with this awful ache, for many years, was to blot it out and drown it in the booze.

As time went on these feelings of isolation became withdrawal. Desperate, having tried to stop drinking but finding I couldn’t stay stopped, I finally called the Alcoholics Anonymous helpline. I didn’t much like having to go to an AA meeting, but I did feel a connection with the stories I heard, not just the circumstances but also the feelings that accompanied the problem drinking. I have kept going to meetings and have not taken a drink in almost 17 years.

Has loneliness disappeared? Not altogether, although the state of hopeless desperation has never returned. Along with all of life’s other trials and tribulations, I can still at times feel alone. The difference is those feelings are manageable now and I find they don’t overwhelm me as they once did. For me, being an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous has meant I can `join-in’ life - be part of my social circle, contribute effectively at work and in family and community life.”

Helen's story

"I was using alcohol to suppress a lot of pain that would re-emerge often in my drunkenness and certainly the next day when I often couldn't remember what I had done or who I had been with."

“I believed that I was drinking because I was depressed and because of childhood trauma. I seemed to get some relief in my earlier years of drinking – it allowed me to be more carefree and confident…

My brother came to see me in London around the time that I became a daily drinker. I was still holding down a very responsible job in the west end and had just bought a house so, in my mind, even though I couldn't stop drinking, I didn't match the stereotypical image of an alcoholic on a park bench with a bottle in a brown paper bag.

My brother encouraged me to go to Alcoholics Anonymous as he knew it would probably work for me. I am very grateful to him for his encouragement because it has been working now, for a day at a time, for 22 years.

In Alcoholics Anonymous I found an understanding and identification that I had not found elsewhere despite the best efforts of the professionals who had tried to help me. I know I might not be alive today if it wasn't for their efforts but I was not able to stop drinking until I began to attend Alcoholics Anonymous...

I was using alcohol to suppress a lot of pain that would re-emerge often in my drunkenness and certainly the next day when I often couldn't remember what I had done or who I had been with. That, coupled with a raging hangover and a desire to hide away, led me to feel very isolated despite seeming to engage on the surface. It was no wonder my mental health suffered greatly.

I still at times have periods when my mood is low but it never stays like that for long as I have a very full life and I have the connection with others that I always yearned for. I also practise self-care in a way that is more important as I go on and particularly during these uncertain and sometimes challenging times during the pandemic.”

Jen's story

"We have had a lot of new members in the past six months as the pressure of the pandemic has highlighted or accelerated peoples’ drinking."

“I am a sober alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)…

When life circumstances change unexpectedly, usually for the worse but sometimes for the better too, someone’s sobriety can be put to the test. The current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on many people…

Mental wellbeing is crucial for staying sober and united we work on building mental resilience to be able to get through the crisis.

AA has given us the power to choose whether to drink or not to drink, and many of us chose not to. This choice gives us the freedom to be responsible for ourselves. As we become responsible for ourselves, we are able to become responsible for helping other people.

During the current circumstances we have been working to support each other and especially welcome newcomers to AA. We have had a lot of new members in the past six months as the pressure of the pandemic has highlighted or accelerated peoples’ drinking. For now, we meet online and look forward to returning to physical meetings. The companionship and camaraderie of AA contributes a lot to looking after each others’ mental health.”

Many alcohol treatment services, like AA, are providing support online during COVID-19. Find out more about the support options available.

Read more