‘You realise this isn’t OK’: Lockdown prompts surge in Germans seeking help for alcoholism

During Germany's coronavirus lockdown, a number of alcoholics were forced to confront their drinking problem - and made the decision to get sober.

'You realise this isn't OK': Lockdown prompts surge in Germans seeking help for alcoholism
Photo: DPA

When the coronavirus lockdown started in Germany, all Marco wanted to do was get drunk.

The musician from Berlin, 38, was downing roughly a bottle of gin every night. “I was like, why not, come on! It's quarantine, let's party!”

But as the days went on, he started to see things differently.

“Because of quarantine you're forced to look at yourself and realise, wait a second, this is not OK. This is actually a problem, this is addiction.”

READ ALSO: German guidelines for alcohol intake are too high, study argues

Marco — speaking on condition of anonymity — reached out to a local Alcoholics Anonymous group and made the decision to get sober after 20 years of drinking heavily almost every night.

And he is far from alone in Germany, which has seen a surge in numbers of people seeking help for alcohol addiction since lockdown measures were introduced in early March.

According to a spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous, enquiries to the group's national helpline have roughly doubled — from about 10 calls per day to about 20.

National culture

Germany has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in Europe, with drinking occupying a prominent place in national culture through events such as the Oktoberfest beer festival.

According to a recent study by the German Center for Addiction Issues (DHS), three million Germans between the ages of 18 and 64 had an alcohol problem in 2018.

READ ALSO: Why beer means so much to the Germans

Sales of alcohol rose sharply during the initial phase of the lockdown as many people turned to drinking at home as a substitute for banned social events.

A man sits at Berlin's Ufer on Father's Day on May 21st, typically a big day for drinking in Germany. Photo: DPA

Wine sales at the end of March were 34 percent higher than during the same week in February, and sales of spirits went up 31 percent, according to a study published in the Spiegel magazine.

But the pandemic has also prompted many people to confront problematic alcohol use, whether through increased self-reflection or because family members finally became aware of how much they were drinking, according to the Alcoholics Anonymous spokesman

“Some people use or abuse the way to work and the workplace as a drinking opportunity, and in many cases this is now no longer available,” he said.

“People have to start drinking at home, and then their spouse or family can see how much they really drink. They get to the point where they realise that there is no way to hide it.”

Huge increase

Alcoholics Anonymous holds about 2,000 regular meetings across Germany.

A spokesman for one of the groups in Berlin said it is now getting roughly one enquiry a day, compared to one or two a month before the pandemic started.

“There's a huge increase, that's definitely clear,” he said.

The Berlin group has been unable to hold face-to-face meetings since early March, turning instead to online Zoom meetings. But this suits many people better, the spokesman said, since online meetings are more convenient and, crucially, more anonymous.

“A lot of the people reaching out to us are those who would normally be quite isolated,” he said. “It makes us more available.”

The group now intends to keep offering more online meetings even after all coronavirus restrictions have been lifted.

READ ALSO: Germany should take drinking tips from Scotland, experts insist

The pandemic has given some alcoholics the final push to confront a problem that has been plaguing them for many years, the spokesman believes.

This was true for Marco, whose life as a touring musician meant that alcohol and drugs were always readily available and part of the culture.

“Quarantine kind of pushed me to finally confront it and handle the situation,” he said. “I don't think I would have faced it if corona hadn't happened. I could have kept going for another 10 years until something really bad happened.

“It's controversial to say it but I feel like quarantine, in a way, saved my life.”

By Femke Colbourne


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘People liked the silence’: How Berlin’s club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Berlin's clubs are suffering from staff shortages, a lack of guests... and neighbours who've grown used to the silence, representatives for the scene say.

'People liked the silence': How Berlin's club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Some operators from Berlin’s club scene are bracing themselves for a difficult autumn. For months now, people have been allowed to dance again and life has returned to normal in the dark corners of Berlin’s famous nightlife scene.

But the clubs have far from recovered from the pandemic. They face staff shortages, rising prices and the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions in the autumn.

“We go into the autumn with huge fear, because the omens are totally unfavorable,” said association head Pamela Schobeß.

Spring and summer went anything but smoothly, she said. “There has been an oversupply of events. People aren’t going out as much, and some are still afraid to move around indoors.”

Money is also an issue. “A lot of people are afraid of rising energy prices.”

The industry lost workers during the pandemic and it’s hard to convince them to come back with the outlook for the autumn looking so gloomy, Schobeß says.

Her colleague Robin Schellenberg tells a similar story. People have switched to various other jobs and would even rather work on a supermarket checkout, which may have been considered less sexy in the past. Now, he says, some have learned to love not having to work nights.


Schellenberg runs the Klunkerkranich, a small club on a parking garage deck in Neukölln. Because a number of things have become more expensive, they have also had to increase their admission prices.

His impression is that people are going out less often and are deciding more spontaneously. In addition, people in the neighborhood are now more sensitive to noise. “Many people found the silence very enticing,” he said.

Some in the industry wonder what will happen next. Will club admission have to become much more expensive? Will that exclude people who can no longer afford it? And what happens if Covid infection numbers rise sharply?

If masks become mandatory indoors in October, Schobeß believes that would be bad for the clubs. “Even if we don’t get shut down by the state, we’ll actually have to close down independently ourselves,” she reckons.

Masks take all the joy out of the experience, she says. People have drinks in their hands and are “jumping around and dancing” and then security guards have to tell them “please put your mask on.”

The federal government is considering whether states should be able to make masks mandatory indoors starting in October. Exceptions should be possible, such as at cultural and sporting events, for people who have been tested, recently vaccinated and recently recovered.

In the event that Covid numbers soar, the states could then be allowed to tighten the rules and eliminate all exemptions.

READ ALSO: German court declares techno to be music