Managing AOD use in times of crisis – what the sector can do to support our workforce

May 2020
In this edition of Drug and Alcohol Research Connections, NCETA, NDARC and NDRI have endeavoured to provide people working in the AOD sector with information and resources about what we can do to support each other and our clients at this time.

We have drawn on sources both within the AOD and the broader health sector (particularly mental health) to identify various strategies. It’s also an opportune time for all of us to share what works for us with our colleagues, networks, clients, families and friends.

As the terms COVID-19 / Coronavirus, social distancing, working from home, online service provision become the ‘new’ norm for all of us working in the AOD sector, we need to ask the question what does this all mean for the AOD sector both now and into the future (weeks, months and years)?

The important role that the AOD sector can play during this time was recently highlighted by the Australian Government’s announcement of an additional injection of $6 million to support AOD services. The announcement not only recognised the significant contribution the sector is making but also the changes that organisations are making to service delivery via the increased use of online and phone services.

For many people working in the AOD sector, crisis management and intervention are common practice. It wasn’t that long ago that we were in the midst of an ‘Ice epidemic’ and before that we had the steep increase in heroin-related overdose deaths in the late 1990’s and early 2000. It would be remiss to minimise the impact that both had on people using alcohol and other drugs, their families, friends, communities and frontline workers and service providers.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to understate the significant impact that COVID-19 is currently having on all of us regardless of whether we work on the frontline (providing counselling, treatment and support), or in research, policy, management and administration.

Coupled with this is the heightened risk of increased AOD use due to changed circumstances e.g., loss of job / reduction in working hours, spending more time at home, boredom, lack of physical contact with family and friends and stress and anxiety from worrying what the future will bring. This is true not only for AOD clients but workers and organisations.

How do we deal with all of this while continuing to provide evidence-based and quality services?

We all need to prioritise our physical and mental health during self-isolation. Here are some simple things that we all can do to look ourselves (this is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list and there may be other things that work for you).

Some tips for looking after your wellbeing

  1. Stay connected with loved ones, family, friends and colleagues
  2. Make time to reduce your stress by exercising, meditating, doing yoga or laughing (the old adage of “laughter is the best medicine” still holds true)
  3. Eat healthy meals and snacks – avoid the temptation to snack on chocolates, biscuits and chips but opt for fruit / nuts
  4. Avoid alcohol or at least drink in moderation
  5. Make sure you get enough sleep.

Basic tips for working at home

  1. Set up a defined work space
  2. Make sure your technology is up-to-date and fit for purpose
  3. Define your work hours – start and finish times and stick to it
  4. Set aside time to catch up with colleagues by phone, email and / or videoconferencing, and schedule regular team / staff meetings, and continue to engage in clinical supervision
  5. Keep moving and take regular breaks during the day – get some fresh air, include basic stretching routines
  6. Set yourself realistic daily goals and congratulate yourself on what you have achieved during your work day.

There are many examples in the Sector of the ways that organisations and workers are adapting to and supporting one another during this difficult time, and everyone should be commended for not only their efforts but for also sharing their strategies / stories.

Most importantly we are a very resilient sector and we all need to stay safe and well and make sure that we continue to look after ourselves and each other both during and after the current situation has eased.