The Covid-19 Pandemic Is Causing More Substance Abuse

By Patrick O’Neil

In the midst of the Covid-19 epidemic, it has become easier to buy alcohol than toilet paper,” writes David H. Jernigan, Professor of Health Law, Policy & Management at Boston University. “Across the U.S., governors are terming alcohol sales an essential business and loosening restrictions to permit home delivery and carryout cocktails.” Not so surprisingly alcohol sales have risen to almost 20% from where they were pre-pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this is due in part because, “Increased stress can lead to increases in alcohol and substance use.” And if there is one thing the health experts agree upon is that Covid-19 is causing everyone a major amount of stress. 

But for some of the population this stress affects them harder than others. According to the writing team of Psychology Professors; Melissa Cyders, Kevin Ladd, and Melissa Fry, “Particularly vulnerable are those with substance use disorders. With schedules disrupted, medical and psychological care curtailed and support networks shut down, the Covid-19 pandemic may jeopardize their recovery.” This is especially troubling as the “pandemic comes on the coattails of the U.S. opioid epidemic. Progress was being made until Covid-19 appeared.”

[The pandemic] is incredibly stressful, because of the uncertainty,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “You see the devastation that it’s having on our country, in the world. And at the same time you are seeing, including the economic turmoil, the lack of jobs. And if you’re a person in recovery, that is a period that is a state of enormous vulnerability for relapsing. If you are not in recovery, you are at incredible high risk that you start to take even higher number of drugs.” 

As California has shifted from fully reopening to partial, and in some cases returning to the original pandemic shutdown measures, the promised “relief” from quarantine is not happening. It’s easy for those abusing substances and in need of recovery to feel like getting sober is pointless, as life has come to a grinding halt. And while there’s never been a good time to be an addict—with Covid-19 the required isolation of quarantine is especially dangerous for those with substance abuse issues. “We’re hearing from the treatment communities that patients that have been able to stay, basically, in recovery for a long time, are starting to relapse,” states Dr. Volkow. “And then you add… social distancing. Well, we are social creatures. We love to interact with one another. It’s very powerful. It’s one of the most important reinforcers that we have, and indeed, one of the factors again that increases the risk for drug-taking is isolation. When you are isolated, that is extraordinarily stressful.”

Traditionally stressful “events” are met with proactive and constructive responses from the public and government. But this pandemic is anything but traditional and the response has been unpredictable. However, what is predictable is that addiction gets worse without addiction treatment. “Staring at addiction without support is not good for [addicts] during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the recognition of the acute treatment need, drug rehab facilities in the U.S are adapting to this new reality. Currently, rehabilitation centers are providing safe environments for individuals with Substance Use Disorder.” 

CAST Centers has adapted to “this new reality” in order to fully provide the needed treatment for the suffering addict’s recovery needs during this pandemic. Flexible program schedules, evening groups, individual counseling, in person and online groups, and coaching are all viable options that provide the necessary help and support in order to achieve and maintain sobriety. During these isolating times the “social” support of a recovery community is crucial. “Social connection and support are key parts of recovery,” writes Cyders, Ladd, and Fry, “Without them, relapse is more likely.” At CAST Centers the recovering addict and alcoholic will find their sober community and support.    

These are unprecedented times and no one can predict when the Covid-19 pandemic will subside. Vaccines are not expected until sometime next year and waiting until then to get help can have deadly consequences. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, [pre-covid] “over 67,300 Americans [a year] died from drug-involved overdose.” With the unprecedented rise in untreated substance abuse that number will only increase. Now, more than ever, it is time to seek help for your addiction and alcoholism.  

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