LOCKDOWN has led to a massive increase in drinking problems.

Keighley drug and alcohol agency Project 6 has seen a surge in demand for its services.

The number of people accessing its Third Place scheme – which helps street drinkers – has rocketed from ten to 35.

And GPs are reporting a big rise in alcohol-related referrals to social prescribers.

Vicki Beere, chief executive officer of Project 6, said the charity had anticipated an increase in alcohol use during lockdown – but nothing like on the scale seen.

"We expected an increase and had done some work with Public Health to develop harm-reduction information for the Bradford district," she said.

"In addition to the rise in numbers accessing our Third Place service, GPs – with whom we work closely – are telling us they have seen an increase of around 40 per cent in the number of alcohol-related referrals to social prescribers in primary care.

"These figures are surprising and concerning, and are probably due to a complex range of reasons and circumstances leading to an increase in alcohol consumption."

As part of its response, Project 6 has developed a so-called digital brief intervention team to work with GPs.

Through the service, which went live last week, patients are able to chat online with a worker about their alcohol use.

Project 6 says that whilst specialist help is being made available, many people will be able to reduce consumption themselves by using methods such as keeping a 'drink diary'.

Phil Taylor, deputy director of operations, said: "Through a diary, people are able to keep track of what they're drinking.

"There is also self-help advice, including what to do if your problem is more severe, on our website at project6.org.uk/about/covid-19/873-substances-and-covid-19.

"And for those who are seeking a little more support, we can supply advice over the phone, interventions and assessments if needed."

The Third Place service – launched last year – provides alcohol users with facilities such as showers and a laundry, and hot meals and drinks.

There is also a range of support and advice and access to services.

The rise in alcohol use is being mirrored across Yorkshire and Humberside, according to independent alcohol education charity Drinkaware.

It says research has revealed that 22 per cent of people in the region are drinking more now than they were at the start of lockdown.

And that increase is reflected nationally.

Drinkaware is urging people to look out for 'drinking triggers' to help them cut back and is calling on the Government to raise the issue of alcohol higher up its harm reduction agenda.

Its chief executive, Elaine Hindal, said: “Our research clearly shows that certain groups of people are displaying worrying new drinking patterns during this very challenging time.

“We’re concerned that, for a significant number of people, lockdown levels of drinking may become ingrained and hard to break. Drinking more can lead to an increased tolerance for alcohol – and this can lead to alcohol dependence.

“It is crucial that alcohol is considered as a factor when the Government is looking at tackling obesity. Alcohol consumption should also be looked at within mental health strategies, including for those on furlough and younger people who may feel uncertain about the future, plus for parents who are juggling work and family life.

“The important thing to remember is that if you or someone you care about is drinking more than usual at the moment, it’s not too late to cut down or find support to help you. Understanding what triggers you to drink more can help you avoid reaching for alcohol. Sticking to the low-risk drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units a week – that’s about six glasses of wine or six pints of beer – is a good place to start to help you keep track."