Is COVID-19 causing a spike in addiction rates?

Addiction is hard, especially in tough world or life circumstances, but with support from near or far, you can make it through.


The age of COVID has brought on so many health concerns for everyone, especially those with preexisting conditions. While the term “preexisting conditions” usually refers to physical health ailments like diabetes and chronic respiratory illness, being predisposed to addiction issues or even unhealthy substance use can impact many areas of your physical and mental health, from your immunity to your emotional well-being.

The information and hard scientific evidence surrounding COVID and all its impacts is all very new, especially when it comes to the interpersonal, social and emotional impacts of the disease and the lockdowns it has caused. But what professionals can do is look at new and existing evidence surrounding the situation to see how it may impact people beyond the medical and public safety implications.

Although addiction issues and COVID may not appear to be related at first, there is much more than meets the eye. COVID and quarantine can cause a sense of isolation and disconnect that can impact mental health and recovery for anyone — addiction issues or not.

And while no world event will change how many people have addiction issues or may be predisposed to substance abuse, world circumstances can certainly impact addiction sufferers through their emotional well-being, access to the resources they need and pushing people towards unhealthy coping mechanisms.

COVID and Mental Health

COVID has had a stark effect on mental health for everyone, even those without preexisting mental health struggles. COVID has impacted many peoples’ jobs, education, family life, social interaction and personal health and safety, to name just a few things. And even if it hasn’t, there is a fear that it will, and that fear can often feel ever-present. For many people, this can bring on feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety.

Pandemics can make caring for your mental health and your immediate needs much more strenuous. There’s a sense of disorientation that makes even simple everyday tasks more difficult. Exhaustion, hopelessness and boredom can rear their ugly heads much more often than you’re used to and encourage a more frequent reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms, which often include substance use and abuse.

Even those who don’t have regular addiction issues may find themselves using or overusing alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism for the negative feelings that the pandemic brings about. This could lead to a reliance on substances and even physical addiction, as many substances are physically addictive, such as alcohol and many opiates.

For people with existing addictions, the temptation to rely on substances to cope may become even stronger with so many outside forces contributing to mental health downturns in the entire population. In turn, this, combined with the number of people in the general population turning to various substances, is increasing the risk of addiction.

Strained Support Networks

For those who are already struggling, one of the key elements to a productive recovery is a strong support network that you can rely on.

People need support and loved ones to help them remember they’re not alone, make sure they feel supported and show them they have people who care about them. Sometimes, a support network takes the form of a therapist or support group, or perhaps a combination of loving friends and family. Ideally, a combination of professional and personal support makes all the difference.

Being alone will make people more likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. This includes those with and without preexisting addiction issues. Without the ability to meet in-person, those who already attend programs and support groups can’t get the same help they once did, and those who realize they need access to those resources now more than ever won’t be able to get ahold of them as quickly as they might usually.

While these things are the result of a public health crisis that nobody can stop right away, they still stand to cause unfortunate difficulties for many individuals.

While many programs that support people through addiction and recovery are beginning to offer services such as teletherapy, online meetings and remote treatment, these services often don’t completely solve the feeling of isolation or loneliness that comes from being away from a once-solid network of support. There are many benefits of in-person treatment and support that simply can’t be carried out digitally.

Addiction and Isolation

When those who struggle with addiction feel completely isolated from their support systems, it can have large impacts on their habits and mental health. It’s already obvious how the strain on support systems and feelings of loneliness can make people more likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Since the start of COVID, opioid overdoses have increased all around the country. Over 40 states have reported an increase in opioid-related mortality. This probably has to do with the fact that solitary drug use increases the risk of overdose for the user. With more people finding themselves isolated and away from others, more people are using drugs solitarily.

While overdoses aren’t always fatal, they pose a risk to the person’s health. Overdosing can cause health problems, physical trauma and emotional trauma, which means it’s vital to prevent it whenever possible.

Delayed Medical Attention

With the increase in drug overdoses over the course of the past few months, the risks are even further exasperated by the influx of medical attention required to handle the high number of COVID cases in many locations. With emergency rooms and emergency services dedicated to treating COVID patients, emergency services are often delayed for those who need medical attention for other reasons, including overdoses and addiction-related health problems.

This is also even more of a potential threat, as some people who struggle with addiction may be at a higher risk for COVID due to cardiovascular and respiratory strain.

Many medical professionals are advising individuals not to call 911 unless a situation is life-threatening, which may cause many people to try to wait out situations that would otherwise warrant immediate attention. But when it comes to overdoses, time is of the essence. Even a few minutes could mean the difference between life and death, so it’s always important to contact emergency services in the event of an overdose or other medical emergency.

Between the stigma surrounding drug use and fatal substance-related emergencies and the high demand for medical attention in so many other places within the healthcare system during this time, the risks surrounding overdoses and overdose fatalities has risen.

Getting the Support You Need

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction during COVID, there are resources available that can help you get the help and support you need to move forward in your recovery, all from a safe social distance. From more in-person resources beginning to offer their services again to the wealth of online resources, it all depends on what would work best for your lifestyle and make you most comfortable.

If staying home due to the health risks makes you feel most comfortable, you have the choice to do that still. Regardless of what method works best for you, it’s important to remember that help is always available in some form. Addiction is hard, especially in tough world or life circumstances, but with support from near or far, you can make it through.


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