Alcohol & Drug Misuse During COVID-19

In an unprecedented announcement following the surge of COVID-19 cases, the Colorado authorities’ order to “stay at home” began March 26, 2020 for 32 days, followed by a relaxing of that order on April 27th. Cell phone data surrounding that time period shows people were beginning to social distance before the order started in March, and they began relaxing how much they were distancing themselves from others before the order was given, allowing the public to ease up on this restriction April 27th.

Now that we have made it through these social distancing and isolation requirements, medical experts at the University of Colorado School of Public Health are currently recommending people continue to reduce social interaction 55%-65% of normal to prevent a surge in new COVID-19 cases. They are suggesting we pair this level of reduced social interaction with other measures such as wearing a mask when out in public, better testing, and encouraging older adults to remain at home.

The recent increases across the board of stress, alcohol and drug use, and COVID-19 cases are not coincidences. With the stress and anxiety the pandemic has created, more people have turned to using alcohol and presumably drugs to cope, although the data on drug use has been difficult to gather during this time. A study found that alcohol sales were up 55% in Colorado the week of March 21st. This is a sharp increase in alcohol sales in the state over this time last year.

Health professionals who work with people who have substance use disorders point out that the pandemic is especially challenging and stressful for those working on recovery. They explain this is because social support and connection are important pieces of recovery and sobriety. Without these important elements, relapse is more likely to happen and may be deadly, particularly for opioid users.

A team of Indiana researchers spoke to 45 adults with a variety of substance use disorders between March and April 2020 to find out how they were managing their alcohol and drug recovery during COVID-19. Not surprisingly, 78% of those interviewed said their stress levels were higher as a result of the pandemic. The most common reasons they provided for their increased stress levels were greater job and/or family responsibilities and reduction of available work or job loss. The researchers pointed out that this increase in stress levels combined with more unstructured time makes recovery much more difficult.

Stress and Relapse

Stress is known to be a key factor in causing relapse for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. People are bored and stressed with more unstructured time on their hands and are having to cope with spouses and kids at home who are also dealing with stress and anxiety as a result of the pandemic. This is in addition to having to deal with financial stress, stress at work, and the stress of having to social distance from one’s support networks. The uncertainty about being able to access medications, syringes, counselling and fill prescriptions during the pandemic is another source of stress for those working hard to recover.

How COVID-19 Can Affect Those with Substance Use Disorders

Those who were interviewed also said they thought they had a 19% to 63% chance of becoming infected with COVID-19. This is double the figures reported by the general population regarding what they viewed were their chances of becoming infected with the virus.

Unfortunately, those with substance use disorders are at a higher risk of acquiring the virus for many reasons. Research shows these people are more likely to be homeless or incarcerated—both factors that are associated with a higher risk of contracting the virus.

Substance abusers also have more chronic lung conditions than the general population which puts them at a higher risk for serious complications since COVID-19 attacks the lungs. This is a significant concern for those who smoke tobacco, marijuana or vape.

Individuals with methamphetamine use disorder and opioid use disorder (OUD) may also be particularly vulnerable to the virus due to the effect of these drugs on the lungs and heart. This is true for those who smoke marijuana or tobacco or vape as well.

How to Prevent Relapse and Manage Stress During COVID-19

Due to the high stress levels affecting people in recovery right now and their higher risk of relapse during this time, support and access to counselling has never been more important. Those struggling with alcohol and/or drug abuse and COVID-19 also need access to support and help with their addiction during this pandemic.

At Achieve Whole Recovery, we offer compassionate care and services to help those struggling with addiction and mental health issues including Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT), therapy, and psychiatry.

We want to thank the caring and dedicated staff at Achieve Whole Recovery for their uninterrupted MAT services during this challenging time.

If you or a loved one is seeking help with recovery from addiction, please contact our office to set up an initial consultation or phone us at (719) 373-9703.

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Social Distancing in Colorado Began Before ‘Stay at Home’ Order