COVID-19 Is the “Perfect Storm” for Addiction—Here’s Why

The COVID-19 crisis has created what can be considered to be a “perfect storm” for addiction.

When you consider the concept of a perfect storm, there are usually many concerns and problems, not just one. Some of these are structural, while others hit much closer to home. Yet, all can leave a person at greater risk for substance use.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it’s important to know why COVID-19 poses such a threat and what you can do about it.

Here are some of the elements that fuel this perfect storm.

The Health Threat

First, there is the problem that COVID-19 presents to our health in general. The coronavirus damages the lungs, and those who have the disease might need a ventilator.

That would be troubling for anybody, regardless if they were an addict or not. But according to the National Institutes of Health, people with an addiction may have a variety of health issues, which can include problems with the lungs, or even heart disease. And this means that they are already in a higher risk group for developing complications if they contract COVID-19 than those who do not have an addiction.

Drastic Changes to the Economy

Statistics have shown that substance use typically goes up during an economic downturn. Due to the coronavirus situation, the U.S. went from record levels of employment to levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. And that transition happened suddenly, almost overnight.

Even in non-pandemic times, losing your job can be a very distressing life event. Many turn to substance use to cope. Add to the job loss the risk to your health from COVID-19 and you can begin to see how a “perfect storm” is developing.

Lack of Access to Treatment

People who are in recovery are finding it more difficult to have access to the treatment they need. For example, space is at a premium in hospitals and clinics, and it can be harder to get medications.

Another example is traditional support groups. Usually, these groups meet in-person to provide community and hope for those who are in addiction recovery. However, now those communities have been splintered apart due to the social-distancing requirements connected to COVID-19.

Online support groups are appearing to fill this void. However, it’s not the same as meeting in person. And not everyone who is in recovery has the technology or internet access to take advantage of these services.

The Threat of COVID-19 and Teen Substance Use

Teenagers can be at particular risk for substance abuse in these difficult times.

For one, their typical routines have been thrown out of balance. The support systems that we have in place to help teens, such as school, have changed in order to adapt to the pandemic. That means online learning vs. being in a classroom. Plus, many of the activities that kids and teens like to do have been halted, such as sports and extra-curricular activities. This also means more unstructured time and, for some, boredom.

And, ultimately, we still don’t know the full scope of the long-term effects of trauma due to COVID-19 on children and teens. Those may take years or even decades to appear.

As you can see, there is not just one issue that is problematic in connection with additions during the COVID-19 crisis. Rather, it is a whole host of challenges and obstacles that have appeared overnight. Not only does this make it difficult for people with an addiction to cope with stress in a healthy way, but you can also understand why many—including teens—may be at greater risk for using drugs or alcohol.

However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse during this pandemic, please contact us to find out how addiction counseling can help, 256-686-9195.

Author
Joshua Howell, MS, LPC, NCC, AADC, ICAADC, SAP, SAE

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