The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on youth drug and alcohol treatment, with self-isolation and safety restrictions making it more difficult for young people to seek help.
COVID-safe restrictions imposed by the Queensland Government since February have affected addiction treatment centres in different ways, with some, such as the Ted Noffs Foundation, having to shut down temporarily.
The Ted Noffs Foundation is a non-profit organisation with multiple locations in South East Queensland that operates as a treatment centre for young people aged 12 to 25 suffering with drug and alcohol addiction.
The organisation provides both counselling and treatment plans for young people.
Ted Noffs Foundation clinical services manager and psychologist Kieran Palmer said the pandemic had forced the foundation to temporarily close its doors but said they were now offering limited services.
“We had to shut down completely in March, but we’re slowly opening back up again,” Mr Palmer said.
“It’s really important to follow the health guidelines, and make sure all our workers and clients are safe,” he said.
Mr Palmer said the closure had resulted in new initiatives such as online programs and counselling, to enable the Foundation to keep in contact with their young clients.
Mr Palmer said moving online had had mixed results, with some people preferring the new interface while others preferred face-to-face contact.
“It’s made it easier in a way, because location doesn’t really matter anymore,” he said.
“But some kids really prefer that face-to-face contact.”
Mr Palmer said the Foundation’s dance programs and art classes had also been forced to stop during the pandemic.
He said the classes were designed to give young people who were receiving counselling and addiction treatment an alternative activity to doing drugs, and to help them connect with other people.
Mr Palmer said the classes were part of the ‘engagement phase’ of drug treatment, because it helped people re-connect with the community and become engaged in something other than drugs.
“And it’s made it especially hard for our creative art and dance programs, which couldn’t continue due to COVID.”
Mr Palmer said the need to stay home from school and study online together with the self-isolation created by the lockdown period earlier in the year was particularly hard for young people suffering with addiction.
“For some kids, our centre has really been a safe space away from home, where other issues such as assault or domestic violence may be happening,” he said.
“Underlying causes of drug addiction include anxiety, depression, domestic violence, and sexual assault, and these can all be made worse due to isolation.”
Addiction counsellor Bronwyn Schlesinger, who works at Gold Coast Detox and Rehab, agreed that self-isolation could pose an additional barrier for addiction treatment, particularly for young people in the early stages of recovery.
“Recovery is very much based on connection, and creating satisfaction and fulfilment in one’s life,” Ms Schlesinger said.
“Unfortunately, because of COVID, it’s shut down all of that for so many young people,” she said.
“It’s shut down universities, it’s shut down a lot of the jobs that they had, and because they’re young, that’s been quite detrimental to their recovery.”
Ms Schlesinger said having less contact with their community could “compound” mental health issues already associated with addiction.
“Certainly anxiety and depression would go up, because there’s so much instability,” she said.
“That would go up for someone who doesn’t have any issues, let alone for someone who’s in early recovery.”
“There’s less treatment available, and they just don’t have access to the support they need.”
Another service experiencing changes due to the pandemic is the Gunnebah Addiction Retreat, which is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre on the Gold Coast.
Retreat managing director Warwick Parer said the centre had seen a “massive increase” in people seeking help since the lockdown began in Queensland.
Mr Parer, who set up the Gunnebah Retreat with his wife Dr Jennifer Parer four years ago, said he had never had such a high demand for his centre before.
“We’re full, and we’ve got about a month waiting list at the moment,” he added.
While the centre has not been forced to shut down, Mr Parer said he was concerned about the increase in demand and said it was “the stress of mental health” that often lead to drug and alcohol addiction.
“With the stress caused by the lockdown, or losing their jobs, one of the ways it manifests itself sometimes, unfortunately, is in addiction,” he said.
“And for people who are in early recovery, or people who have had addiction issues, it can push them over the edge.”
“They were okay, and then suddenly they’re not okay.”
If you or anyone you know is in need of help for drug or alcohol addiction, call Gunnebah on 02 6679 1565, Gold Coast Detox and Rehab on 07 5559 5811, and Ted Noffs on 1800 753 300.