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By Indiana Lee

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March 6, 2021 (San Diego) -- There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted millions of lives around the globe. Some studies have already started to reveal the potential mental health effects of the pandemic, on top of the physical.

People have been dealing with uncertainty, fear, and grief for the better part of a year. Some have lost their jobs. Others have had to adjust to their kids being home from school during the day. Maybe you’ve even experienced a direct loss from the virus.

For those who struggle with other things, however, the pandemic is a two-fold problem. Those who have dealt with addiction before, for example, might find themselves combatting that force once again thanks to the stress of COVID.

What we have on our hands, then, are two pandemics, and both are extremely dangerous. Addiction cases have continued to rise throughout this pandemic and don’t show any signs of slowing down.

So, how do the two connect, and what can be done to fight back against addiction during times of turmoil?

How COVID-19 Has Fueled Addiction

To understand how COVID-19 and addiction connect, it’s important to know some of the potential causes of addiction. People turn to drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common factors include:

●     Genetics

●     Peer pressure

●     Trauma

●     Mood disorders

●     Anxiety/depression

Many people who struggle with addiction have co-existing disorders. It’s estimated that 28% of people with a drug disorder also have anxiety. So, there is no one concrete factor that determines what causes or fuels addiction. But, COVID-19 seems to be the perfect storm.

How do we know there’s a connection between drug/alcohol use and the pandemic? For starters, the statistics don’t lie. At the start of the pandemic, between March-April 2020, online alcohol sales skyrocketed 500%, while in-store sales rose 20%. During this time, many people were placed on “lockdown” or told to socially distance themselves from others. The pandemic was still new and there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding it. Those trends have continued throughout the pandemic with alcohol sales consistently showing up higher than the year before.

Drug use is just as serious. In San Diego, there was a drastic uptick in overdose deaths caused by fentanyl in 2020. It’s impossible to know what led to those overdoses, but as opioid demand continues to rise, too, it’s hard to ignore the connection.

Loneliness, Isolation, and Relapsing

Photo, right: Determining triggers and addressing them promptly can help avoid a relapse

If you’ve struggled with addiction before, the pandemic can put you at a greater risk of relapsing. First, the resources you might typically depend on could have been halted or disrupted. Rehab centers, addiction treatment centers, and even therapists had to alter the way they work throughout the pandemic. Some still haven’t returned to “normal” operations.

For someone with an addiction, feeling as though you’ve lost your support can make it easier to relapse and fall back into old habits.

Additionally, social isolation increases the risk for addiction and overdoses. Social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine have all become common terms throughout this pandemic, but they can be harmful to a recovering addict. Peer support groups, therapy, and even familial connections are crucial for those recovering from addiction. Without them, it’s easy for an individual to feel as though they’ve lost hope and control. Not only can that spur on drug use, but it can combine with extreme feelings of depression and anxiety, which is why overdoses are so common.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Thankfully, there is an end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that multiple vaccine options have been released, life may start returning to some state of normalcy. But, so much damage has already been done, and it could still be some time before things are completely back to normal.

In the meantime, what can you do to fight the struggles of addiction, especially if you have found yourself slipping back into old habits?

First, try to determine the root of your addiction. If you’ve had help before, rediscover what might be triggering you again. If you’re feeling depressed because of the pandemic, it’s important to work on your mental health state before focusing on the addiction itself. Since isolation plays such a major role, commit to turning off social media and/or the television and interacting with people. This can help you combat that sense of isolation. Even if you’re not able to do it in-person, simply talking to someone from your support system can prevent relapse or simply lift you up. Other ideas to make you feel less isolated include:

●     Going for a walk outside.

●     Sitting at your favorite cafe or restaurant.

●     Spending time with a pet.

●     Seeing a movie with other people in the theater.

Online group meetings and teletherapy are also extremely helpful options for anyone who is struggling. This pandemic has brought the issue of isolation and addiction to light more than ever before. Hopefully, if there is one good thing that comes from these uncertain times, it’s a growing knowledge that social and environmental factors play a bigger role in addiction than most people think. With that knowledge, changes can be made to help those struggling in the future. 


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