How lockdown is hitting Harrogate's alcoholic community and how AA is working harder than ever
As we enter the sixth week of social isolation and self distancing, there’s a warning that the lockdown is causing problems for an issue often regarded as Harrogate’s ‘invisible’ problem.
The town’s branch of Alcoholics Anonymous say the current restrictions are increasing the risks of people reaching for the bottle while, at the same time, making it harder to share their feelings or seek vital help.
But volunteers are continuing their good work by online means and were still offering vital support in Harrogate for people with drink problems.
A spokesperson for Harrogate AA said: “Most alcoholics too are more than familiar with depression, anxiety, and mental ill-health. So the risks of slipping back into old patterns of self-centred fear and self-pity - and ultimately of reaching for the bottle - are significantly magnified.
“And for an alcoholic to drink, the risk of major relapse and disintegration of their rebuilt lives is huge.
“At times like these the regular support and fellowship offered by attendance at AA meetings is more essential than ever.”
Alcoholism may still be a condition which is still not talked about openly but it’s one which affects ordinary people, professionals, and middle class women, young and old alike.
In general, the wider problem of alcohol abuse is often felt worst in some of the wealthiest towns in the UK.
Harrogate itself shows up regularly in the upper reaches of the national league table for the amount of adults with a drink problem.
And figures published last year showed a 25% rise in hospital admissions for excessive drinking in North Yorkshire from five years earlier.
Harrogate AA’s job was made harder when the Government lockdown led to the suspension from the end of March of all physical meetings in the Harrogate area.
In common with many other charities, businesses and public organisations, Harrogate AA has turned to the digital world to offer support.
Within a matter of days, all 16 weekly AA meetings in the Harrogate area, including Wetherby, Ripon, and Knaresborough, were directly replicated into Zoom meetings following the same formats and protocols as existing meetings.
In addition a new online ‘coffee shop’ informal meeting has recently been added to the schedule at 1pm each day.
But there is only so much that can be achieved online.
The Harrogate AA spokesperson said: “There are downsides to virtual meetings. Some members struggle with the technology, some struggle to ‘share’ in a virtual environment, and many of us miss the togetherness of a physical meeting.”
But the local branch is keen to emphasise that most of what it does is still being done .
The spokesperson said: “Going online has some upsides. It has been beneficial for individuals who otherwise struggle to attend meetings due to disability, for AA friends who’ve moved abroad in recovery, and linking up with other places in the world.”
Case study: How lockdown has affected one recovering alcoholic in Harrogate
Recovering Harrogate alcoholic ‘Henry’ has been tee-total now for around two years but still attended AA meetings five times a week until the coronavirus lockdown.
He said: “Isolation isn’t good for an alcoholic. It takes us back to when we wanted to be alone and had cut ourselves off from friends and family.
“I personally have struggled with online meetings as face-to-face groups had become a massive part of my recovery.
“The meetings were useful for learning from others how they deal with certain things that life brings.
“They also helped strengthen my resolve against alcohol, to give me the tools to live my life to the best way I can.
“I live in a flat in Harrogate town centre, the walls are thin and it’s not a peaceful and quiet place to share your feelings or experiences.
“But I am starting connecting with online meetings more and starting to make my way back into the ‘middle of the lifeboat’."
Harrogate AA: Getting in touch
Alcoholics Anonymous is an international mutual aid fellowship with the stated purpose of enabling its members to “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.”
While its ability to help during the Coronavirus crisis may be restricted, its willingness is not.
For details of all Harrogate area Zoom AA meetings visit
National AA Helpline: 0800 917 7650 (24/7 Manned Service)
AA Website :www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk
AA Online Meetings info: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/AA-Meetings/Find-a-Meeting/online
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