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How the COVID-19 Crisis Impacted Substance Use


It's no shock that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted many people's mental health, but this is especially true for those who were already suffering from a mental illness like a substance use disorder (SUD). Here's how the global health crisis has impacted substance use.

Pandemic anxiety and isolation has caused many to turn to substances

Throughout 2020, the ongoing pandemic has seen a surge in depression, anxiety, and experts say, misuse of stimulants and opioids as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotion related to COVID-19 as of June 2020.

For this reason, there has been a spike in substance use in both the frequency and quantity of drug use during the pandemic. Furthermore, some people who have turned to substance use to cope with the emotional stress of the pandemic have started using new drugs if it became too difficult to obtain their original substance of choice.

While some may argue that linking the cause of this increase in substance use to the pandemic may not be accurate, experts agree that the clinical observations and research show that the emotional and economic strain people have experienced as a result of the pandemic are major factors for the increase in substance use. For many people, the pandemic has created a perfect storm of factors that increase substance use: when people become more isolated and stressed, they are more likely to make unhealthy decisions, like turning to drug use and increasing their alcohol consumption.

Relapse is especially common during stressful times like COVID-19

For the millions of Americans who are striving to recover from substance use disorder (SUD), the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the social isolation from distancing measures have been huge hurdles for these individuals. In the spring of 2020, the Addiction Policy Forum conducted a nationwide survey of 1,079 people with SUD to understand how they were being impacted by the pandemic.

According to the results of the survey, respondents reported an increase in negative emotions, including worry (62%), sadness (51%), fear (51%), and loneliness (42%). These emotions increase the risk for relapse. And due to the social distancing measures in place to combat the pandemic, peer support programs, including 12-step meetings and similar groups, are much more difficult to find.

Because of the uncertainty around COVID-19, even as vaccines roll out across the country, those who struggle with addiction or are in recovery from SUDs are feeling the impact very keenly. While online recovery options do offer some form of support, such as teleconferencing tools and therapy apps, it doesn't fully capture the in-person experience. As we continue to combat the effects of the pandemic, it's important for the medical community to reimagine support for those who are recovering from substance use disorder.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance use, we at Wellspring Center of Prevention can help you find a treatment facility. We can also provide information about the various treatment options available to you, or take advantage of our Self-Help Tool so we can make suggested referrals. Please call 732.254.3344 to speak with one of our professionals.

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