All eyes are on the COVID-19 pandemic, which is today considered the most prominent health crisis of our modern age. But while COVID-19 sweeps across nations, infecting thousands, and attracting the attention of media outlets everywhere, there is a silent killer that has been drawing strength from the anxiety, distress, and depression that COVID has caused.
According to recent statistics, addiction and substance use disorders have taken more lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. With overdoses happening more frequently and emergency room visits related to substance use doubling compared to the past two years, it’s clear to see that the present pandemic has triggered a significant increase in substance use problems.
What’s Causing the Increase?
While the data isn’t completely clear just yet, experts have volunteered a number of reasons why substance use, addiction, and overdoses have become far more common during our present pandemic era. These include:
- Escaping Stress – One of the most prominent reasons that experts assert is that individuals are choosing drugs and alcohol in order to escape the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. It’s no secret that lockdowns and various restrictions have caused depression, isolation, financial distress, joblessness, and many other changes that have rocked society and disrupted everyday life.
Since not all people are equipped with the proper coping mechanisms to adjust as rapidly as the changes occur, some feel overwhelmed and helpless, turning to the only solutions apparently available to them. According to statistics, the beginning of the pandemic has ushered in increased sales for alcohol and marijuana. Another study found that 13.3% of people either started using substances or increased their intake after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Overwhelmed Facilities – Overdose deaths reached a record high in 2019, but numbers collected from 2020 to present are showing that a new record may have been set. Deaths related to drug and alcohol use are on a steady rise, with close to 100,000 individuals dying of substance-related causes during the past year of the pandemic.
Presently, experts have yet to uncover the reasons for the increase in overdose deaths, but an obvious assumption has been pointed out. With most medical facilities overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, many of them have closed their doors to non-COVID cases in the hopes of reducing the virus’ spread. Because of this, individuals who suffer an overdose are unable to get the emergency medical care they need. There have also been some reports of people refusing to go to the hospital even during an overdose emergency out of fear of contracting the virus and complicating their health.
- Mental Health Risks – The pandemic has been a major source of mental stress for most people, but those with a risk of developing mental health conditions or those who are still recovering from a previous diagnosis are particularly at a disadvantage.
Depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and the entire spectrum of mental health disorders have significantly increased over the course of the pandemic. And with some people unable to seek professional help, alcohol and drugs become their solution for self-medication. Unfortunately, mental health conditions and substance use make for a dangerous combination. Often more difficult to treat than just one or the other on its own, this union of two disorders can significantly increase a person’s risk of death due to overdose or even suicide.
How to Cope with Addiction During COVID-19
There are unique risks for people with substance use disorder during a global pandemic. Addiction is a disease that thrives when a person is placed in an uncertain situation. Add in the secrecy that comes with isolation due to lockdown and other restrictions, and it’s easy to see how addiction might progress during a pandemic. That said, if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction during these trying times, then it may help to consider these steps:
- Look for Companionship – Isolation breeds secrecy which is one of the prerequisites for increased substance use. Try to look for the company of trusted family and friends in your area. If lockdown restrictions prevent that from happening, then consider reaching out to and communicating with them through online means. Social interaction has been found to be an effective treatment against substance use.
- Create a Routine – The freedom of time that comes with spending the whole day at home can leave a person idle. And with nothing better to do, drug and alcohol use might take the center stage as the most viable activities to fill up your time. Experts recommend creating a routine that fills up your day with a variety of activities. Keeping yourself preoccupied may help reduce urges and cravings, and keep your mind of off use.
- Contact Your Provider – If you’ve undergone treatment before and you feel yourself slipping into a potential relapse, then it’s imperative that you contact your provider. Your therapist or counselor should be able to provide sound advice and encouragement to help you cope with the situation. In some cases, they may even be able to pay you a visit to help you reconnect and refresh your goals.
- Try Online Addiction Support – Because of distancing protocol, a lot of treatment centers and support groups can’t meet face-to-face. But many of them have adopted online methods, letting members continue their program by joining virtual meetings. There are lots of online addiction support resources on the web, and you can join as many as you find necessary in order to maintain your grip on sobriety.
The New Normal
As if it wasn’t hard enough to cope with substance use disorder, the added stress of the pandemic makes the entire process even more of a challenge. Fortunately, help is never out of reach. With many support and therapy providers migrating online, the help you need might just be a click away.
Fight against isolation, seek out the companionship of trusted family and friends, and stay on track to sobriety by reaching out to your therapist or counselor. While the pandemic might have made everyday life difficult, it helps to remember that it’s not here to stay and there are brighter days ahead.