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Remote therapy and problem drinking

Miina Pulkkinen and Lasse Rousi on how tech is freeing addicts from the debilitating risk of stigma.

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In most countries, alcohol is a widely available and socially accepted drug enjoyed in celebrations, meetings, events, and even with dinner. And yet, many who struggle with problem drinking face blame and shame, often from their own community.

It’s a sad truth that seeking help can put jobs, reputations, and personal relationships at risk. Thankfully, remote healthcare services can help those struggling with alcohol use while offering them the privacy and respect they deserve.

It’s much easier to be a nondrinker now than ever. Millennials tend to drink less than their parents did, and GenZers drink even less than their millennial elders. But, while it’s encouraging to see more and more people adopting a healthy lifestyle, we can’t let trends distract us from the large number of people secretly struggling with addiction issues.

An estimated 107 million people worldwide live with an alcohol disorder, while the average person consumes around 6.4 liters of alcohol every year.

Many people enjoy a drink. Many people are even encouraged to drink. But those who struggle to stop drinking still feel shame and face stigma, which can prevent them from getting the help they need. This situation, of course, is unacceptable.

Alcoholism is a complex issue, and people become problem drinkers for many reasons. Some might drink to escape reality, and some people are simply genetically prone to develop issues.

To highlight the complexity of alcohol problems, let’s consider the situation in Finland. The small Nordic nation has been named the world’s happiest country by the UN for three consecutive years.

But, out of a population of 5.5 million people, more than half a million people regularly consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol.

Over in the United Kingdom, alcohol plays a significant role in many social activities. There, almost a quarter of the adult population drinks more than the recommended level.

And out of the nearly 600,000 Britons dependent on alcohol, fewer than one in five are receiving treatment.

Even in a country that ranks amongst the highest in Europe for binge drinking, stigma still prevents many from seeking help, despite mental health issues becoming more understood in recent years.

Alcohol issues increased during Covid

Stress is an obvious reason for drinking too much, and the pandemic triggered stress on a global scale. The UK was hit especially hard, and long months of national lockdown burdened millions with isolation, worry, and even financial issues.

So it’s no surprise that statistics from Public Health England show that an increased number of Britons reached for the bottle at the start of the pandemic. Or that they continued the habit throughout the ordeal.

But despite the rise of higher-risk drinkers, half of the population reported no change in their alcohol consumption.

There are many valid reasons people choose to keep their drinking patterns private. Many still view substance abuse as a moral failing rather than a mental health issue and one in ten British people have been fired or disciplined due to drunken behavior at the company Christmas party.

A further 8 per cent felt like they had to leave the company due to embarrassment.  And, when it comes to personal relationships, even recovering alcoholics are at a disadvantage during custody battles.

So it’s clear that many problem drinkers find themselves in a difficult situation when trying to get the help and support they deserve.

If they ask their employer for time off to attend therapy, they may be risking their job. If they attend therapy in a small town or village, they might risk judgment from the community.

Remote therapy is private, personal, and productive 

With remote therapy, people with alcohol issues can get convenient care from the privacy of their own homes. And software platforms can be used anywhere, which is beneficial in areas where treatment options are limited or non-existent.

What’s more, telehealth is flexible, so users often don’t have to ask for time off work to get better. In addition to this, talking to a trained therapist without fear of stigma empowers people to seek the help they need. And, because the patient can speak in their own home, the journey to recovery is just a bit more relaxed.

Along with highlighting mental health issues, the pandemic also highlighted the effectiveness of remote therapy. In 2020, 37 per cent of those who used a telehealth service said they’d like to use the service again.

But even before the outbreak, a 2019 survey found that telehealth has some of the highest customer satisfaction rates of all healthcare services.  So it’s little wonder adoption has skyrocketed from 11 per cent in 2019.

In 2020 alone, 46 per cent of consumers chose telehealth services to replace canceled healthcare visits. And it looks like telehealth is here to stay, as 76 per cent of survey respondents said they would likely use telehealth services in the future.

Support without stigma

People who recognise the damage alcohol is doing should never fear losing jobs, loved ones, and reputations while seeking help. Thankfully remote therapy means they don’t have to.

The only thing they have to focus on is getting better, and starting their journey of recovery in peace.

Miina Pulkkinen is business director and COO of the Finnish Nordic Health Clinic, which specialises in identifying and treating alcohol-related problems. Lasse Rousi is the CEO of Medixine, a Finland-based telehealth specialist.

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