Impacts of COVID-19 on Addiction

Daniel Marcus';

By Daniel Marcus

Posted on November 19th, 2020 in Covid-19

Learning how to deal with reality is the most important first step when you love someone who is struggling with addiction.

Yet, the reality of the COVID-19 crisis has left many locked down, laid off, and flooded with uncertainty, opioid relapses, and rising overdoses. What can be done?

According to the American Medical Association, over 40 states show increasing concerns about opioid-related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing how the overdose epidemic may become worse. Additionally, over 70,000 Americans died from a drug-involved overdose in 2019, the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures show.

In 2019, as required by state and federal law, Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital completed a Community Health Needs Assessment and Implementation Strategy. Below is a summary of the significant findings drawn from an analysis of the data on substance use disorder in the neighborhoods and beach cities in eight zip codes on the west coast of Los Angeles County:

  • 9.9% of adults were smokers, compared to 11.4% in the county
  • 42.9% of teens had tried alcohol, compared to 23.5% in the county

Right now, COVID-19 amplifies the underlying factors that led to substance abuse. The barriers to care for addiction identified in the assessment included:

  • The stigma around addiction treatment
  • Integration of substance use disorder treatment into all healthcare 

For those who turn to substances to cope, anxiety and stress can be even more triggering when sheltering in place, as it has made connecting harder. Many people are cut off from their support systems, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, who have turned to online meetings. Still, with the right support, people can recover from addiction.

How to Tell When Alcohol or Drug Use Is Becoming a Problem 

Working or studying from home during COVID-19 can be an opportunity to differentiate a problem from a harmless coping mechanism, especially if you're already concerned.

Pay attention to the warning signs that show your loved one's behavior is crossing the line into concerning territory: following the pull of drinking over not drinking, using more drugs, hiding substances. Also watch for withdrawal reactions, which can cause physical symptoms, similar to those of anxiety. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, someone addicted to substances might show the following common signs:

  • Impaired motor coordination and speech 
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in personal hygiene or physical appearance 
  • Mood swings like lethargy alternating with being overly energetic
  • Changes in appetite
  • Missing obligations and appointments 
  • Disinterest in engaging with family and friends
  • Changes or disinterest in work, school, or relationships

The behavior patterns above may be noticeable in scenarios when you don't know details about the substance use, but also when you suspect a relapse after recovery. 

How to Help: The Opposite of Addiction Is Connection

During this unprecedented time of isolation, uncertainty, and anxiety, everyone's struggling with loneliness. 

For people who live alone, you can find creative and effective ways of connecting, whether it's by phone or in-person while following proper physical distancing. Let your loved ones suffering from addiction know you care and you're there for them.

How to Offer Support Without Judgment

Our instinct is to reject people who violate social norms, even if they're our loved ones. Even people in healthcare are sometimes at a loss as to how to interact with someone with a substance use disorder.

The answer is that family members must care compassionately and competently for people with substance use disorders. Treating people with dignity and compassion is an important first step.

In addiction, predisposition to brain changes is significantly influenced by uncontrollable external factors, such as genetics or social environment and upbringing. Stigmatizing and rejecting people with addiction only contributes to the vicious cycle that entrenches their disease.

How to Find Help

You can point your family members or loved ones in the right direction. As a starting point, you can get involved by contacting your primary care provider or health insurance provider. 

Also, you have search options over the phone and online. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline can refer you to treatment options that are covered by Medicaid or use a sliding fee scale.

The treatment program your loved one chooses should be licensed and accredited by the appropriate agencies. Besides, it should offer evidence-based intervention, such as:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • Relapse prevention

Also, staying persistent is key.

How to Address Whole Person Care

Understanding the co-occurring mood and anxiety disorders of people who struggle with addiction plays an important part in better outcomes and long-term recovery.

Although the 12-step social support options meetings have gone virtual, they’re still important. They can help people who struggle with alcoholism and addiction handle isolation issues and can also help with sponsorship. Such groups can also be a vital resource for concerned family members who are trying to figure out how to help. 

The important thing is that although addiction is a common disease, it's treatable and people can achieve recovery.