FOR some, it’s been the only medication that’s got them through the isolation of lockdown. 
Stuck at home with nothing to do other than fret about catching Covid-19, a worrying number of people in Scotland have drifted towards the drinks cabinet to drown their sorrows or life their spirits. 

“If you’re in the house and not feeling that great, you will maybe hit the drink a little bit,” agrees 57-year-old Frank Reilly. “I was tearing my hair out. My dad has Alzheimer’s, 
I was missing the job I loved. 

“You don’t feel you’re the same person as you once were.”

Like those who have self-medicated through lockdown by topping up their glass, Mr Reilly could easily have found solace in a bottle as the stress of his situation mounted. 

Instead, he ended up in the Submarine Museum, Helensburgh, alongside a group of other men. Weeks earlier they had been strangers, now they were supporting each other through isolation, stress and loneliness. 

“It was fantastic,” recalls Mr Reilly. “It was just a day out, but we were there together, learning about things and getting a lot of out it. 

“It’s the company, getting away from the house, going place together that we wouldn’t normally visit, and the banter.”

Launched in December 2018, the Men Befriending project has provided a lifeline for men who might otherwise have fallen into a lonely life of isolation and alcohol. 
Designed to capture people before they drift into difficulty, it’s the kind of group that could easily see numbers soar as Scots emerge from lockdown and assess its impact on their lives. 

Already it is looking like many of us may have to face up to being unhealthier and unhappier; last week it emerged that four out of five people north of the Border answering a YouGov survey reported an increase in harmful habits, including smoking, drinking and unhealthy eating. 

Nearly one in seven people in Scotland said they had started drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week – about two bottles of wine – during lockdown. Scots were also most likely to have started smoking or vaping during lockdown (16 per cent) compared to the UK as a whole (9%).

While data from the Office for National Statistics has shown retail sales slumped by 18.1% in April, but sales of alcohol and tobacco rose by 2.3%. 

That followed a 23.9% rise the previous month, as shoppers stacked their trolleys high amid uncertainty over lockdown restrictions. 

It has sparked concerns over the impact self-medicating with the bottle may have had. In a joint statement last week, Baroness Ilora Finley, chairwoman of the Commission on Alcohol Harms, and Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance warned the effects could last a generation and called for the nation’s pandemic recovery from the pandemic to include measures to tackle harm caused by alcohol. 

Daren Borzynski, engagement officer at West Dunbartonshire Community and Volunteering Services (WDCVS), which launched the Men Befriending project, agrees there is likely to be a growing need for groups like it to help people through the lockdown hangover.

“I think that there’s going to be an increase in people looking for a different social circle as a result of coronavirus,” he says.

“That could be because they’ve been through loss of job, work that is drying up or bereavement.”

Selina Ross, the organisation’s chief officer, agrees: “Covid-19 will mean we are likely to see an increase in men who are seeking a social circle to lean on thanks to bereavement and loss, meaning the work of this project will be more important in the coming months than ever before.”

The Men Befriending group was launched after WDCVS spotted a trend among older men who had experienced isolation or loss, either because of job loss or bereavement, alongside concerns around their levels of drinking.

Designed to help catch them before they drifted further into unhealthy habits, the group brings men together to chat, enjoy days out at galleries, museums and outings, and provide mutual support. 

“It’s about trying to give people something to do that gets them out of the house and stop them feeling stuck and ignored,” days Mr Reilly.

Forced into early retirement two years ago due to a knee injury, he had been missing the laughs and chat with workmates, just as his father’s health deteriorated 

“You retire and the rest of your pals are still at work,” he continues. “You don’t feel you’re the same person as you once were. 

“When you have a job you love and something happens so you can’t do it any more, it hits you really hard. 

“The group is full of ex-tradesmen like me, so there’s a lot of banter. It’s company and a chance to get away from everything.The wee men’s club has pulled me through it.”

The Men Befriending group is one of four to have just received funds from the Scotch Whisky Action Fund, which since 2013 has made over 50 awards to initiatives working to reduce alcohol-related harm. It's  hoped that by 2023, the Fund will have provided £1m of support to charities.

Karen Betts, Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “Now more than ever, it is hugely important to the Scotch Whisky industry to continue to support projects that help to tackle alcohol misuse.”