Numbers of people seeking help for alcohol in Leeds hits two-year high

Alcohol support services in Leeds have reported a surge in people asking for help during the Covid-19 pandemic due to an “increase in drinking” across the city  - but experts fear the situation has yet to peak.

By Joanna Wardill
Saturday, 6th March 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Saturday, 6th March 2021, 4:28 pm

Figures seen by the Yorkshire Evening Post show the amount of people who started treatment for alcohol-related issues hit a two-year high towards the end of last year in Leeds

A total of 373 adults began treatment for alcohol at Forwards Leeds, the city’s drug and alcohol service, in September and October last year - more than any other two-month period over the past two years.

The YEP has also learned more family members have been raising concerns about a loved one’s drinking levels over the past year, with around 70 per cent of referrals into city charity Carers Leeds now relating to alcohol - up from 50-60 per cent pre-pandemic.

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Lee Wilson, operations director at Forward Leeds. Picture: Simon Hulme

And both services say they expect those numbers to rise further over the coming months.

It comes as the YEP continues to shine a light on mental health through our #SpeakYourMind campaign, which was launched in 2017 but is now timelier than ever due to the ongoing toll of the pandemic.

Lee Wilson, operations director at Forward Leeds, said: “Pre-Covid we would have around 3,200 supported in treatment [at any one time] and that went up to 3,500 at one stage at the back end of last year. That’s nearly ten per cent. It was quite a big jump.”

He said: “There has definitely been an increase in drinking, although we are not seeing that on the ground quite yet - that big increase in referrals.

“In my opinion, we are still in lockdown, we’re not out yet so I don’t think we can say at this point that that has peaked.

“I think it would be early and naive to say that.”

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Owen Findley, a support worker at Carers Leeds who helps people affected by someone else’s drink and drug use, said: “Alcohol has always dominated our referrals but now that has only got greater.

“We’ve been speaking to a lot of people where it would seem to have become a problem across the lockdowns.”

Owen said he predicts an increase in calls with the lifting of restrictions, from people who have felt unable to ask for help during the lockdown.

He said: “I think there’s a lot of hidden harm going on. A lot of people who, for whatever reason, can’t speak about it at the moment will be coming out and asking for help, maybe over the summer as things relax and people have more opportunity to do that.”

The charities both suspect a lack of structure for those on furlough, or working from home, has been a factor in higher drinking levels.

Lee said: “You have the perfect storm of people who are on furlough, on 80 per cent pay, nothing much really outgoing, [so] more money incoming and lots of free time - nothing else to do. A lot of people, you can understand, will have a drink. Especially in the first lockdown when the first six weeks it was really nice weather.”

He said people could also be turning to drink or drugs for “comfort” or to “self-medicate” due to the stress of pandemic-induced isolation.

“We know mental health needs have increased and that isolation is a really big deal” he said.

“Things have changed for people - they can’t see their loved ones. People’s lives have changed and people’s coping mechanisms vary.”

Families, locked down together, could suddenly become more aware of a loved one’s drinking levels - leading to higher stress levels and a lack of escape or respite.

Owen added: “Spending 99.9 per cent of the time with someone who's drinking dependently is going to have a catastrophic effect on someone’s mental health.”

Forward Leeds is one of the few services nationally which adopts a ‘no threshold’ policy, where there is no minimum level of drinking required to access help, and people can self-refer if they are worried.

Lee said people could ask themselves: “Have you found when throwing bottles away that maybe the number you’re throwing away has increased?

“Have you started drinking earlier?

“Do you wake up with a thick head?

“Do you do less or is it harder because you have a hangover?

“Do you find yourself having a drink again the next day to take the edge off?:

He added: “We’re not saying don’t drink. Just recognise the signs and make sure you are staying healthy and recognising if there are any changes.

“We don’t want to take the fun out - just for people to recognise when control is maybe slipping a bit.”

Anyone worried about drinking or for advice or support, contact Forward Leeds on 0113 8872477, email [email protected] or visit

Anyone worried about someone else’s drinking can call Carers Leeds who offer support to people affected by alcohol use of someone they know on 0113 3804300.

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