A spike in the number of people seeking help for porn and gaming addictions during lockdown has sparked fears New Zealand isn't equipped to deal with the problem.

It comes as the Government considers law changes restricting New Zealanders' access to online pornography.

Addictions specialist Lisa McLennan spoke to the Herald about the huge number of new clients she was hearing from who had never defined themselves as addicts.

"Gaming and porn use during lockdown has been big. A lot more people are getting in touch and I think that's because they don't have the usual public eye on them.


"You don't have work or the usual distractions that would normally interrupt your habit or use and I think that's a big part of why we are seeing more people coming through."

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She said on one hand it was great that people struggling with these addictions were getting help but it's likely they were only "the tip of the iceberg".

"You can see that from the wait lists and also the stigma people get for having addictions, which you don't have for obesity or respitory issues but we definitely do with substance use."

Addictions specialist Lisa McLennan. Photo / Supplied
Addictions specialist Lisa McLennan. Photo / Supplied

In the first few days of lockdown, website Pornhub had more than a 20 per cent jump in traffic. Though porn use dropped slightly, a steady 10 per cent increase, compared to pre-lockdown figures, has continued.

It was tricky for people who were managing their own addictions in isolation, McLennan said.

"People who love going to their meetings and are now having to do Zooms are getting frustrated because it's not the same as talking to people face to face."

When asked what New Zealand should be prioritising to get ready to cope with a surge, McLennan said the first step was decriminalising addictions to illicit substances.


"It needs to be treated as a health issue.

"I don't think we are ready and I think we will continue to see an increase."

But it wasn't just porn and gambling addictions that were rising.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said at times of crisis people resort to all sorts of "approaches" to manage their lives.

"For example, if people were using alcohol to deal with uncomfortable feelings before lockdown, then they are likely going to use it more during times of crisis."

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He said one of the biggest challenges was that we were living in a society where we promoted addictions such as gambling, alcohol use and even porn.

"There are a number of public health measures the Government can take to protect us from the dangers of alcohol, pornography, obesity, gambling.

"The access that creates that harm are all choices that various Governments have made and we can reduce access."

In November last year, Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin said she hoped to introduce proposals to restrict New Zealanders' access to online pornography to Parliament before the next election.

"Officials are now looking at policy options for preventing harm to children and young people from online pornography," she said at the time.

"It's a priority of mine and I really want to see legislation introduced this term."

McLennan said more support was needed to help services that were helping catch addictions in the early stages.

More support on the ground was desperately needed, she said.

Five tips for coping with addictions while in isolation:

From addictions specialist Lisa McLennan.

1. Don't make big life changing decisions

The Covid crisis is not forever. People are feeling trapped and doomed and can't see the light. Remember this situation is only temporary.

2. Plan your day

People seem to manage a lot better when they know what time they are getting up and when they need do this task or that task. Distracting yourself is key.

3. Stick to drugs you know

If you are going to use drugs it's much better you stick to what you know. Make sure you know where you got it from and what's in it.

4. Notice changes

Don't be shy to reach out. No one who works in this field is going judge or embarrass you. There's nothing to weird and there is no shame.

5. Stay connected.

I know some people hate Zoom or WhatsApp but it is better to have someone to talk to rather than staying inside your own head.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155