COVID-19 has now become a household word. More than a year has gone by since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the pandemic on March 20, 2020. Much has happened during this time; for many things have gotten much worse. This is particularly true for those with substance and alcohol use disorders (SUD and AUD) as well as mental health issues.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), both substance abuse and overdose have increased since the COVID pandemic. Additionally, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports an increase in both opioid and stimulant use since the pandemic started. In addition, the amounts used and frequency of use have both increased during the COVID pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 13% of Americans started using alcohol or drugs during the pandemic as a way to cope with their uncomfortable and unsettling emotions. And, as mentioned, overdoses have increased too. The reporting system ODAP found that in just the first few months of the COVID pandemic overdose rates increased by 18% when compared to the year prior before COVID.
When it comes to mental health problems and COVID, these too are on the rise and understandably so. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that Americans experiencing anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, substance use, and other stress-related symptoms doubled from the prior year.
Often, mental health and substance or alcohol use issues exacerbate one another. The evidence to date from the pandemic reflects this clearly.
Why Have Alcohol and Drug Use Increased During COVID-19?
Substance and alcohol use can often begin as a way to cope with being stressed out or feelings of anxiety as well as other mental health issues. During COVID, the spike in mental health issues has been significant. This could be the reason, as many professionals speculate, for some of the increase in alcohol and drug use.
When it comes to mental health issues, people can tend to self-medicate by taking a drink or drug. And while initially, this may help them to relax a bit, it can—and often does—turn into a more serious issue. During the pandemic when many Americans were quarantined, this turning to a drink or drug came all too easy for many. Individuals who engaged in more drinking and drug use often reported that they had nothing else to do. Sadly, this has led some into dependency on a substance that is now hard to break.
Additionally, during much of the pandemic so far, many other means of stress relief haven’t been easy to find. For example, social gatherings which can be so helpful for many people’s mental health have been altered and in some cases completely halted. What’s more, gyms and other places like yoga studios and meditation centers have also been closed. This has resulted in limited options for stress relief at the height of the pandemic. And, as mentioned, once dependence has developed, it can be hard to stop.
Not only has there been an increase in alcohol and drug use but also in overdose rates as mentioned. The APA reports that there can be several causes for this. One reason for the increase in overdoses during the pandemic is the limited availability of certain drugs or even at one point alcohol. This can lead an individual to try a different type of drug that is more readily available. For example, an individual with an addiction to prescription opioids, may turn to illicit fentanyl when they can’t get their drug of choice. Fentanyl is a stronger and far more potent drug than heroin and prescription opioids. This can lead to an increased rate of overdoses.
Additionally, the increase in death from overdose can be in part attributed to this as well as other factors. One issue is that many Americans are spending more time alone than ever before. Despite quarantine being over, life isn’t back to normal and isolation still exists for many. Research shows that a person is more likely to die from an overdose when they use drugs alone. COVID has left many people isolated and engaging in drug use alone. This is also a reason for the increase in overdose deaths during COVID.
Another factor that plays into the increase in substance abuse and overdoses during the pandemic is the lack of access to medical care. During the height of the pandemic, most physicians’ offices were not able to see patients at all. This lack of access to medical care plays a vital role in addiction and treatment even aside from the pandemic. This increased lack of access made it even harder for those who needed and wanted treatment for alcohol and substance abuse to get it.
Now that treatment centers, clinics, and community-based organizations are back up and running, those who need treatment for addiction should be more able to access the help they need. However, there is growing concern about the lack of staff and the ability in both addiction treatment and mental health services to meet the increasing needs of the population.
Not only has COVID-19 increased the rates of alcohol and drug use as well as overdoses but there are also factors unique to individuals with an AUD or SUD that make them more vulnerable to other issues related to COVID.
Unique COVID Challenges for Those With Substance Abuse Issues
COVID-19 has not affected all Americans in the same way. The most vulnerable groups seemed to be suffering the most. Individuals in recovery or those with active substance abuse issues have fared worse during the pandemic.
According to a research report in Molecular Psychiatry, it was found that those with a SUD have not only a greater risk of getting COVID-19 but also have poorer outcomes once contracted. These worse outcomes include higher rates of hospitalization and mortality.
In addition, historically, this group of individuals has been slow to receive medical care when needed. The data is not all in; however, it is theorized that those individuals with substance use disorders have less access to the COVID vaccine. This further leads to an increased chance of contracting it. Many in the United States with a substance use disorder are incarcerated. Those individuals incarcerated have an increased risk of contracting COVID.
When it comes to COVID and addiction rates, there is concern. However, the concerns don’t end there. In addition, the lack of resources for those with an AUD or SUD to get the treatment they need is emerging as a new concern. The mental health field is also overwhelmed and there are long waits to find a counselor in most cases.
For many with an AUD or SUD, COVID has been the perfect storm propelling their addiction and/or mental health issues to new, more troublesome levels. However, no matter how bad a person’s addiction or mental health issues have become, the right treatment can help. Whether it’s help for addiction or mental health or both, Futures Recovery Healthcare has experience and success in treating both.
If you or a loved one are worried about alcohol or drug use or think you may have a mental health issue we are here for you. Call us today at 866-804-2098 or contact us online.