As of September, there are over 33 million cases of COVID-19. Of those, over 7 million cases coming from the United States Alone. Beyond the setbacks in terms of livelihood, healthcare, and education, the coronavirus pandemic has severely affected Americans’ mental health. One thing that has seen a tremendous impact of COVID-19 is substance abuse. Let’s explore how the coronavirus pandemic has affected those with substance abuse disorder and co-occurring mental illness.
The Lasting Effects of Isolation and Mental Health
While most state and local governments’ initial response was to close all non-essential businesses and schools, the mandatory state-at-home orders create quite an isolation for many. Even as states start the process of re-opening, many are still choosing to isolate out of precaution. A broad study links isolation with poor mental and physical health. Not to mention, isolation can increase the risks of suicidal ideation during this time.
An early poll in late March showed that those sheltering-in-place experienced adverse mental health resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus. The rate was 37% higher than those not sheltering-in-place. Of those in shelter, 21% reported significant adverse mental health effects due to coronavirus worry.
Finally, the current pandemic might affect older adults living alone. Loneliness exposes them to a higher risk of mental health issues or substance abuse problems. Living alone is linked to depression in older adults. In addition, the death of loved ones, prolonged bereavement, and complicated grief is impacting both younger and older adults differently.
Impact of COVID-19 Unemployment and Substance Use
One of the most significant consequences of the pandemic has been the global economy’s impact, leaving millions of people unemployed. In the United States, in particular, this means many are left without a social safety net, healthcare access, and limited access to social services. When someone recovering from substance use disorders loses the structure of employment, they’re more likely to experience a relapse.
The last CDC report showed a 13 percent increase in adults reporting starting or increasing their substance use. Social distance, isolation, or quarantine are essential measures to help prevent coronavirus transmission – however, these strategies and the pandemic outbreak have been associated with negative emotions, such as irritability, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, or boredom. These conditions are known to trigger a relapse, even in those long-term abstainers.
By mid-July, another poll showed that around 59% of households experiencing income or job loss reported that coronavirus-related stress caused them adverse effects including difficulty sleeping, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Changes in Drug Use Patterns During COVID-19
Not only are more people increasing their substance use or alcohol consumption, but their patterns and types of substances are changing as well. The drug market has experienced a significant shift during the pandemic. While psychoactive use continues to soar, the use of recreational synthetic drugs like MDMA is diminishing. These changes are likely tied to the closure of clubs and festival avenues.
While there’s little that we can use to compare the coronavirus pandemic, we can analyze previous economic recessions. For example, in the United States, the last financial crises caused increased use of adolescent cannabis and illegal drugs and an elevated involvement in the illicit drug market. As people lose income and can no longer afford their drug of use, suppliers usually start adulterating substances or introduce new psychoactive substances with unknown risks.
All of these changes in drug use patterns can place those with substance use disorders at higher risks. Addicts that resort to smoking drugs or chronic cigarette use are also at higher risk of coronavirus complications. Even those who use e-cigarettes or vapes can be more susceptible to chronic pulmonary diseases, respiratory illnesses, and other health problems.
Tips to Focus on Your Sobriety and Mental Health During COVID-19
The impact of COVID-19 on our world is something we might not be able to control. However, we can control how we let the Impact of COVID-19 affect our mental health, sobriety, and long-term recovery.
Whether you’re an active substance abuser or you’re experiencing an increased substance use during the pandemic, it may be challenging to stay on track. When there’s uncertainty around you, the best way to stay focused is by creating a routine. As we know, our mental health is taking a toll right now, regardless of your status. It’s essential to be proactive about your actions to stay away from the dangers of substance abuse or relapse.
#1 – Attend Meetings
Since the pandemic, many community-based groups offer online support meetings that you can access through your phone or computer. If a virtual meeting is not accessible for you, check with your local treatment centers. Many rehab facilities are offering in-person support meetings following the safety measures by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
#2 – Spend Time Outside
It’s well-known that nature has fantastic healing properties, and it positively impacts our mental health. You can still be safe while spending time outdoors. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of sun exposure every day. Vitamin D can help improve our mental health state, reduce depression and anxiety symptoms, plus it might help us combat COVID-19 in case of an infection.
#3 – Focus On Self-Care
It can be challenging to find time to dedicate to yourself when you feel like the world is crumbling around you. Trust me, during the pandemic, I found myself unemployed, dealing with my mother suffering a stroke, and caring for an elderly family member. However, even still, seeing time to practice gratitude, express kindness, and meditate helped me go the wrong way.
#4 – Avoid News Overload
Even though it’s crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest news, it can be easy to feel overload with information. Watching the news 24/7 can be overwhelming, mainly when most news is negative. Be conscious about how much media you’re consuming and try to take a break from social media and TV stations.
#5 – Ask for Help
Sometimes we don’t know how to handle our mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, or substance abuse, you might need to reach a professional. Call a sober friend, contact an addiction therapist, reach out to a self-help hotline. Whatever it is, make sure you don’t try to handle this situation by yourself.
Even if you feel quitting your substance use alone is helpful, remember that you might suffer withdrawal symptoms that could be life-threatening. Remember that you still have access to reach out to a treatment center and find the help you need.
While we’re still analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on society, the initial numbers are scary. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that our mental health state is more fragile than we think. If you or someone you know is struggling to stay sober, sane, and healthy, please contact us today. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we continue to operate following all safety guidelines and recommendations to ensure you have the access you need to get better.