Tsunami of people seeking stress and addiction help

Priory sees huge rise in people inquiring about treatment for stress and alcohol addiction

  • 70% increase in a year in those inquiring about stress treatment
  • 150% increase on the same period two years ago
  • People are “numbing” or self-medicating their emotions with alcohol, with a 55% year-on-year increase in addiction treatment inquiries

Priory experts are seeing a significant rise in inquiries about treatment for stress and alcohol addiction – and are preparing for a further “tsunami” of cases amid concerns about financial hardship, job insecurity and relationship breakdowns.

Latest data from the Priory, which runs a network of independent mental health facilities across the UK, reveals a 70% increase in inquiries about private treatment for stress.

Priory recorded the increase throughout the first nine months of 2022, compared to the same nine-month period in 2021. The increase is even greater when compared with 2020, with inquiries up a massive 150% on the same period two years ago.

Experts say increasing numbers of people experiencing stress are “self-medicating” with alcohol. Inquiries about alcohol addiction treatment have jumped 55% compared with the same period last year, and are 75% higher than the same period in 2020.

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani, a leading expert in stress based at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in London, says: “These trends are alarming. Many people’s mental health deteriorated during the pandemic, and that stress never really went away. So, the cost-of-living crisis, coming in the wake of the pandemic, is proving even more detrimental, with people often feeling a sense of paralysis when making even minor financial decisions. Many of my patients say they experience physical and mental symptoms of stress daily.

“We know that for many people stress can lead to addiction, as people turn to unhealthy coping strategies.”

With Christmas, housing and food costs, and job insecurity fuelling financial worries, experts at the Priory have urged people to talk about their mental health, and to seek support.

Dr Bijlani said: “While financial worries are very real, there are some things you can do to manage your mental health. Just as we need to make sensible decisions when managing our finances, like switching energy provider or consulting a mortgage adviser, we all need to take steps to look after mental health. Talk to someone and seek out your GP if needed. Seeking action early can prevent mental health problems building.”

Dee Johnson, psychotherapist at Priory’s Chelmsford Hospital, urged people to reconsider their alcohol intake: “It is important to remember that what our body absorbs affects our moods, and alcohol has a big impact (not just the obvious hangovers) as the effects of regular daily drinking creep up on us. Everything is connected, so getting sluggish and feeling rough has a knock-on effect on our emotions, motivation, and self-esteem, which in turn means we struggle with being able to ‘connect’, we feel agitated and depressed, and this can really have a negative impact on everything – our work, relationships, lifestyle, health (mental and physical) and sleep.”

Advice for managing stress:

Compartmentalise

Dr Bijlani says: “What do you have control over? What can you realistically do to improve your financial situation, say? Sometimes we can control part of a problem, but not all of it, and while it can be difficult to stop ruminating about things you can’t control, recognising where you do have control – and where you don’t – can be useful. Take action where you can and focus on the smaller things to start with. Schedule a time every month, or week, to review your spending, for example, and how you might handle it differently. Avoid ‘doom-scrolling’ on your phone. Stress is depleting and chronic stress even more so.”

Reduce Christmas drinking

“Excessive alcohol, eating, spending, or smoking are all unhealthy coping strategies. If you can cut back or even eliminate alcohol this Christmas, you will notice a huge difference. Alcohol is expensive, especially if consumed in restaurants or bars. It’s also a depressant and can heighten anxiety. For those who drink regularly, incrementally higher amounts of alcohol will need to be consumed to achieve the same pleasurable state, which can lead to dependence and long-term mental health issues such as depression and anxiety”.

Control your breathing

“When people get anxious, they take shallow breaths which can worsen stress. Be mindful of your breathing technique and take time, even just a few minutes, on a daily basis to breathe deeply and slowly so that it becomes a regular habit. There are many resources to learn relaxation techniques including the free NHS-approved app My Possible Self.”

Take control

“Keep up with physical exercise and connect with people. You have the ability to manage your thoughts and actions. You can’t avoid stress, but you can try and manage it. Try to take control and actively reduce levels of stress hormones in your body, by making time to regularly engage in pleasurable activities and hobbies, which may include cooking, exercising, listening to or playing music as these can help distraction by engaging other senses.”

Seek help

“There are tools out there to help you manage anxiety and stress, but if you’re really struggling, always talk to your GP and seek out professional advice. GPs won’t typically prescribe medication for moderate stress, but severe chronic stress might warrant a prescription drug and also talking therapy.”

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services, supporting more than 25,000 people every year, for more than 70 different conditions, across more than 300 facilities nationwide.

A free, NHS endorsed app, My Possible Self, created in partnership with Priory, offers a range visual and audio exercises to help manage mental health.

Priory Group
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