Booze, drugs and rehab... living in the shadow of Covid

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Oct 23, 2021

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“It’s 12 somewhere in the world.”

That was a favourite remark for Jared Elliott from Durban when he needed a drink or a cocaine hit during the long months of lockdown.

The 25-year-old spoke candidly to the Independent on Saturday this week about his drug and alcohol addiction which, he said, was exacerbated during the pandemic.

Elliott said that when the first hard lockdown level 5 was introduced, he was drinking and doing drugs.

“I started to use more during lockdown, I was trapped inside. I was working from home and you start to lose your ethics. Without a boss or colleagues, it makes it easier to start drinking earlier. I mean ‘it was 12 somewhere in the world’ and I would start during the day and be intoxicated by the end of the day. Then I’d start with cocaine in the evening.

“Prices were extreme during level 5, but it was very easy to organise, and drug runners would deliver cigarettes and drugs to my doorstep for a R50 delivery fee. Sure it was lockdown, but you could still sneak one or two friends in,” he said.

Things took a turn for the worse because he had access to his company’s petty cash.

“My cocaine habit was getting worse and I started taking out of petty cash. It quickly got out of hand and the situation became extremely bad,” said Elliott, adding that from “borrowing” R100 which he intended to pay back, the “borrowed” amount rapidly rose to R40 000.

“I’d think ’how do I push through today?’ I’d end up getting another bag, I was a functioning alcoholic and drug addict.”

He convinced himself that a shot of whiskey with his coffee, or champagne with fruit juice in the morning, was normal.

“You can force yourself to do something that doesn’t feel as though you’re doing something wrong.”

A friend advised him to come clean with his company and face the music.

“He said I must show some respect and admit to them what I’d done. It was so hard to write it down and face what I’d done, but I couldn’t afford to pay it back,” he said, adding that his company asked that he undergo rehabilitation.

Before going into rehab, Elliott went for a weekend away with friends where “I had never done so much cocaine, I felt like death by the end of the weekend. It felt like my body was shutting down as I drove those couple of hours, but I managed to get home.

“The next day when I woke up, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought ‘what have you done with Jared?’ I was like, ’no I’m done with this’,” he said.

He decided to go into rehab without telling anyone, but then he caught Covid and had to go home to isolate.

“I sat at home, still battling and trying not to relapse. I felt completely isolated. I took 10 sleeping tablets, removed names from my phone and passed out,” he said, recalling his lowest point.

He was woken by his parents bashing on his door and was admitted to a rehabilitation facility, Riverview Manor in the southern Drakensberg, that evening.

“There I could relate to other patients. I’ll never forget the pain and torture that addiction put me through, which helps to keep me in sobriety.

“It was hard to see the whole world in turmoil during the pandemic and with the world remote working, it was easy to get into a relaxed state of mind; you are hidden, you can do what you want.

“I was also worried about getting Covid and, eventually, I was starting at 8 or 9am with a whiskey shot in my coffee, just to get through the hangover,” he said.

Now clean for several months, Elliott is working with the marketing team at Durban-based Choose Life Specialist Recovery Centre (sister facility to Riverview), where this week, general manager Matthew Young said: “There has been a massive increase in the number of people seeking help since the pandemic hit.

“We are not only dealing with people battling with existing addictions, but also those who are new to addiction and using various substances to void and deal with the pressures of life in the shadow of Covid-19.

“During this period, people have been admitted for addiction as well as depression and anxiety. Alcohol problems, in particular, seem to be on the rise despite the bans put in place. We have learnt from our patients that, despite the bans, illegal substances are readily available whenever and wherever,” he said.

The Independent on Saturday

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