Nova Scotia

Staying sober during COVID-19 can be a struggle, says recovering alcoholic

Stress, boredom and isolation have been a dangerous combination for Nova Scotians struggling to stay sober during COVID-19, says the founder of Sober City Halifax.

Founder of Sober City Halifax hosts weekly video meetings to support non-drinkers

Lee-Anne Richardson started Sober City Halifax to help people who might be struggling to maintain both a sober lifestyle and a social life. (Contributed by Lee-Anne Richardson)

Stress, boredom and isolation have been a dangerous combination for many Nova Scotians struggling to stay sober during COVID-19, says the founder of Sober City Halifax.

Lee-Anne Richardson, who's been sober since 2014, said she's heard from several people in the last few months who worry about relapsing during the pandemic and don't know where to go for help. 

"I'm hearing a lot of ... loneliness and stress and lack of a community and those together can trigger negative feelings, and if you don't have healthy coping mechanisms in place that can cause a relapse," she told CBC's Mainstreet.

Richardson created Sober City Halifax earlier this year for recovering alcoholics and non-drinkers who want to enjoy the city's social scene without drinking alcohol.

She's been hosting video conference meetings every Sunday so people can talk about their sobriety and stay connected even in the midst of the pandemic. 

"It's so easy to say, 'No one will know if you're home alone.' So it's been very hard for a lot of people," Richardson said.

Increase in drinking

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction reported in April that Canadians under 54 were drinking more due to COVID-19. Last week, the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation said sales spiked in March by 22 per cent.

"Having all this extra booze in your house ... that's of course going to increase the chances that you're going to drink even more and that can even become addictive in and of itself," Richardson said.

Jennifer Warburton, an addictions counsellor in Halifax, said the pandemic took away people's usual ways of coping with stress such as gathering with friends or going to the gym. 

She said it appears more people are struggling with sobriety, but she added that help is available. 

Many 12-step programs have moved online, and the Nova Scotia Health Authority has online mental health and addictions services with counsellors available by phone and video conferencing, she said. 

"We've had really good uptake in some of the [NSHA] groups that we've been able to offer. I think it's met the needs of a lot of people," Warburton said.

Her advice to people who've relapsed or come close is to be kind to themselves. 

"It's recognizing that relapse is part of the recovery cycle, and so that it's not abnormal when that happens. And so trying to take some of that shame out of it and recognizing that you know this is a hard time for people," she said. 

Richardson said she created Sober City Halifax to let non-drinkers know they're not alone.

It's an important message, she said, especially now as public health restrictions ease and bars and restaurants reopen.

"Eventually I would like to start to change the culture a little bit. You know, we don't need alcohol to have fun. There's other ways to have fun. You don't need to always be drinking," she said. 

Nova Scotians looking for addictions support can go online or call 1-855-922-1122.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet