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‘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


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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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