National calls to alcohol support services doubled in 2020, while drink sales rose by almost a third over the course of the pandemic, a Victorian parliamentary inquiry has been told.
COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions altered people's relationship with alcohol, Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association executive officer Sam Biondo said, with people choosing to buy in bulk and consume more.
"We know that crisis impacts the use of substances," Mr Biondo told a committee reviewing the state's pandemic orders.
"We know from research ... that people living in impacted areas consume substances with greater frequency, long after the crisis has abated."
Thousands of Victorians are still on waiting lists for residential rehabilitation and treatment services but staff numbers are dropping due to funding cuts, Mr Biondo said.
"There was somewhere between 100 and 125 people taken into the sector during COVID through some fast track training," he said on Friday.
"That funding was removed in the last budget so we will lose that. That's concerning."
The demand for help will not go away because restrictions have eased, VADA's Dave Taylor told the inquiry.
"Habits forming during the imposition of some of the restrictions may not manifest in people needing clinical treatment for a number of years," he said.
"So we're anticipating a pretty long sting in the tail."
The demand for help from the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council is also rising, after it saw a 126 per cent increase in calls at the height of the pandemic.
"COVID is like a slow train wreck that you're watching," VMIAC's National Disability Insurance Scheme manager Neil Turton-Lane told the inquiry.
"The pandemic is not over. Its effects have been felt very deeply at all levels of our community."
VMIAC developed the Check-In peer support program during the pandemic, as a way to connect disengaged vulnerable people with support workers who have a lived experience.
But funding for the program from the state government will be discontinued next month leaving its future uncertain, VMIAC's chief executive Craig Wallace told the inquiry.
An advocacy group founded to fight Victoria's lengthy school closures told the inquiry child mental health will suffer if schools are shutdown again.
"We very firmly believe that it is not the job of children to keep adults safe," Shadow Pandemic Victoria co-founder Moran Dvir Dvir said on Friday.
"The burden should not ever be on children and the burden has gone far and above keeping adults safe."
Meanwhile, Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has tested positive to COVID-19.
Professor Sutton on Friday tweeted he was "feeling pretty rubbish" with a sore throat and painful cough.
"Can't imagine how it might have been - for me - without three doses of vax," he said. "Good on science."
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