When COVID-19 disrupted everyday life in the early months of 2020, those in isolated lockdown searched for coping mechanisms. Not only were many confined to living quarters alone, but most were left without traditional support systems, creating veritable circumstances that may have contributed to an increase in addiction.
Are COVID Isolation and Addiction Related?
Although precise research correlating COVID-19 isolation and substance use aren’t as comprehensive as they could be, the data that does exist gives us enough information to know that the pandemic created a conducive environment for increased addiction and substance use.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, mandatory social isolation and stress related to the pandemic are likely contributing factors to increases in substance use.
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 13 percent of Americans started or increased substance use to deal with stress or emotions related to the disease. And as 2020 continued, the American Medical Association reported that more than forty U.S. states have seen increases in opioid-related deaths, while ODMAP reported an 18 percent increase in overdoses.
The number of positive urine drug screens ordered by health care providers and legal systems increased during the pandemic, while studies in the United States and other countries also suggest many people increased their use of alcohol and cannabis.
Coping with Isolation and Addiction
Drugs and alcohol are often used to cover up feelings of depression, anxiety, or mental distress, and with strict stay-at-home orders, the typical support systems typically used to keep substance use under control vanished. Addiction is often described as a “disease of isolation,” and although it is not known what causes addiction, studies show that the closure of traditional coping mechanisms and other support systems—such as workplaces, gyms, and other communal activities—had a negative impact on those experiencing substance use disorder.
With the rise of “quarantinis” and virtual happy hours, substance use during the pandemic became glorified, if not encouraged, with the sales to back it up. Retail alcohol sales increased by 54 percent in the first week of the pandemic and remained higher throughout the following year. Although the increase doesn’t prove that the alcohol purchased was used by those experiencing substance use disorder, the statistics showing treatment sought points to a better-found conclusion. A study conducted by Vista Research Group shows the number of people seeking addiction treatment remains 10 to 20 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels.
And it’s not just alcohol. Drug overdose deaths showed signs of plateauing in 2018 and 2019, but increased by 23 percent following the beginning of the pandemic. And nearly two years into the pandemic, the CDC reported that, for the first time in US history, drug overdose deaths topped 100,000.
Another study conducted by Vista Research Group shows that 41 percent of substance abuse patients stopped participating in their usual day-to-day activities, and 25 percent of those people reported this change affected the way they received treatment.
Although the pandemic may have made certain substances harder to obtain, Mandy Owens, PhD, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, says that the lack of one’s preferred substance may have led to the use of a new drug.
According to Addiction Center, the isolation that came with strict stay-at-home guidelines may have caused some to relapse—an already common experience when COVID is not factored in.
Addiction Treatment During COVID
Community has always been an important pillar in the path to addiction treatment. When the pandemic discouraged comingling and in-person events, some found treatment less accessible.
The disappearance of in-person support meetings and face-to-face mentoring during the pandemic had a significant impact on relapse, according to Vista Research Group. Although online meetings were and still are offered, many participants reported them as feeling more impersonal.
Thankfully, and despite physical distancing and strict quarantines, many treatment centers modified their existing practices and adapted COVID-friendly regulations to attempt to regain personal and effective treatment plans. For example, most commonly instituted were symptom and temperature checks, requirements of masks and physical distancing, and limited or no visitor policies.
And while access to medication was also severely impacted, federal agencies took steps to ease access, such as waiving in-person visits for certain patients and certain treatments, and allowing some more take-home doses.
Treatment During COVID Is Possible
Although the long-term effects of COVID and addiction are still inconclusive, the industry has adapted significantly to provide adequate treatment. If you’re struggling to maintain your sobriety or if you are experiencing addiction due to the effects of COVID, there are options to help you get back on track. Contact us today.