How COVID-19 Plus Drug and Alcohol Addiction Creates A Perfect Storm

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The Rise of COVID-19

With 2020 finally behind us, many of us look back on the past year with shock and bewilderment – and many of us look forward to the year ahead with a cautious anticipation. After last year’s events, we know that anything is possible – we also know that simply watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve and counting down 2021 doesn’t mean that any of the madness is behind us.

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The pandemic rages on.

In fact, COVID-19 cases are higher throughout the United States than ever before, and many cities across the country are currently experiencing a second wave of mandatory shutdowns. According to a New York Times article published on Dec. 28, the coronavirus pandemic has killed over 1.7 million people and sickened well over 80 million thus far. Since China reported its first death on Jan. 11, the pandemic has swept through numerous other countries, wreaking immense havoc and leading to an outstanding amount of controversy and division. As it stands, some believe that the country should be immediately reopened for business – that shutdowns do nothing to protect the American people and everything to hurt the economy. Others believe that restrictions should be more severe in order to stop the spread more effectively.

While the country remains divided, one fact is unarguable – rates of substance abuse have been skyrocketing over the course of the past year.

The Link Between COVID-19 and Substance Use

Extensive scientific and medical research points towards the fact that the current pandemic has been throwing fuel on the fire of nationwide addiction cases, resulting in what can be considered “a perfect storm.” Here are several examples:

  • Mandatory social distancing and widespread closures have led to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation – Not only have stay-at-home orders led to an exacerbation of pre-existing SUDs, but the boredom of being isolated at home coupled with job loss and financial insecurity has led to an increase in new cases of SUD throughout the country. Many people do the majority of their socializing in the workplace – being stripped of all social outlets has taken a widespread negative toll.
  • Many men and women who suffer from substance use disorders also suffer from mental health concerns (like anxiety and depression), which can be amplified during such a stressful and uncertain time – It is also more difficult for people with underlying mental health conditions to receive psychiatric care, and access to necessary medications has also been widely compromised. According to the World Health Authority, “67% [of countries] saw disruptions to counseling and psychotherapy; 65% to critical harm reduction services; and 45% to opioid agonist maintenance treatment for opioid dependence.” The study was conducted from June to August, 2020.
  • Many individuals throughout the country are turning to alcohol and drug use as a means of self-medication – There are many underlying factors when it comes to an increase in self-medication, according to an article published by the US National Library of Medicine. (4) Not only are people turning to alcohol and drugs as a means of coping with high stress levels, loneliness and other uncomfortable feelings, but many Americans are attempting to self-medicate in order to avoid seeing a medical professional or prevent further overwhelming the healthcare system. For example, someone who experiences severe back pain while quarantined at home might turn to an unused pain medication before consulting a prescribing physician, which could lead to a substance abuse issue down the line.
  • Daily schedules (and recovery programs) are disrupted by closures – Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings have predominantly moved online, making it more difficult for some to maintain a sense of personal accountability. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics rely on the consistent structure of their day-to-day lives, making it more difficult to maintain sobriety.

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Pre-Existing Substance Abuse Disorders – A Risk Factor

There is another interesting link between the coronavirus and substance abuse, as detailed in an article published by The National Institute on Drug Abuse and written by Dr. Nora Volkow. The article suggests that individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 – that men and women who had been diagnosed with an SUD within the past year were overrepresented among those who had tested positive for the virus. It was discovered that overall, men and women who had been diagnosed with an SUD at least once during their lifetimes were 1.5 times more likely to test positive than members of the general population. The reasons behind these findings are complex and vary on a person-to-person basis. In general, the increased risk of contraction is due largely to a weakened immune system and an increase in risk-taking behaviors. Ingesting chemical substances on a daily basis weakens the body significantly, ultimately making it more vulnerable to infection. Intoxication also leads to lowered inhibitions and a lack of self-control, which makes following suggested safety guidelines far more difficult (wearing a mask when in the presence of others and maintaining six feet of social distance, for example)

If you or someone you love has been struggling with a substance abuse disorder of any severity, seeking professional help is truly more important than ever before. Not only is the SUD liable to progress more rapidly, but it increases the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the first place. Fortunately, there is help readily available. Reputable treatment centers – like those affiliated with Guardian Recovery – are considered essential and remain open to serve you or your loved one through the coronavirus pandemic. Addiction is often a matter of life or death – in this day and age, this statement rings especially true.

How to Overcome Substance Abuse During COVID-19

If you or someone you love has been struggling with substance abuse or dependence during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several steps you can take to get the help you need (or help your loved one get the help he or she needs).

First of all, it is important to be aware of the warning signs of a substance abuse disorder. Of course, it is difficult to keep a close eye on loved ones unless you are currently living with them. However, if you do notice that your loved one tends to be engaging in more substance use than is normal, it is a good idea to reach out for professional assistance just in case. Some common warning signs include:

  • Mood swings, which are often characterized by increased irritability and aggression
  • Disrupted sleep patterns/staying up later than normal, sleeping in more than normal and appearing tired and fatigued throughout the day
  • Changes to diet, appetite and weight
  • A loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Loss of motivation to take care of personal obligations and responsibilities
  • Interpersonal issues, financial issues or legal issues

This is undoubtedly a difficult time for all of us. We have had to adapt to constant change and uncertainty – we have had to navigate job insecurity, unexpected financial stressors and the discomfort that goes hand-in-hand with having no idea what will come next. The good news is, if you or someone you love has been struggling with substance abuse or dependence, there is no better time to commit to a long-term program of recovery and begin an entirely new way of life. Guardian Recovery is available to help.

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Guardian Recovery has remained open during the coronavirus pandemic, and remains dedicated to helping men and women of all ages overcome substance abuse and go on to lead the fulfilling lives they deserve. We understand how difficult this year has been for so many, and we are immensely grateful that we are able to continue serving our clients and their loved ones, helping them gain the tools and skills they need to maintain sobriety through any adverse circumstance or challenge that life may throw their way. For more information on our recovery program options contact us today, we are available to help you 24/7.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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