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How Covid-19 Has Impacted Addiction Recovery

How Covid-19 Has Impacted Addiction Recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives in many ways, including our social lives, and severely impacted the finances of most of us. Addiction — and the recovery process — are not immune to these changes and are deeply affected by COVID-19. Addiction to drugs and alcohol remains a concern, and the need for rehab and treatment options is as great as ever. However, the pandemic has also created some unique obstacles for those needing treatment.

How Addiction Has Affected the Spread of COVID-19

Addiction has also had an impact on the spread and progression of COVID-19. When individuals abuse alcohol and other substances, their judgment may be impaired, as well as their decision-making abilities and motor skills, which, in turn, can lead to more dangerous behaviors, including not following social distancing and other guidelines. These behaviors place them more at risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

Additionally, individuals who struggle with addiction are more likely to experience homelessness and incarceration — two populations that are at a much higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

Addiction Increases Risk Factors of COVID-19

Certain habits associated with addiction can also increase an individual’s risk of contracting the virus. Smoking, whether cigarettes, marijuana, vaping, or other smoked drugs, can weaken the lungs, causing long-term damage that also can mean a higher vulnerability to the COVID-19 virus. Long-term smoking habits often cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs, COPD patients are at a much higher risk of contracting the virus, as well as experiencing more severe complications.

Heroin and other opioids or other intravenous drugs can increase an individual’s risk of heart and pulmonary infections, which, in turn, also places them at a higher risk for COVID-19. Besides this risk, opioids act in the brainstem, slowing breathing and creating dangerous decreases in oxygen in the blood. And if these individuals contract the virus, the combination of the symptoms of COVID-19 and the dangers of the drug can make them more susceptible to the most serious complications of the disease.

How COVID-19 Has Affected Addiction

The social distancing guidelines and other restrictions locally that have limited our options for partying, seeing friends, or going to restaurants and bars have reduced everyone’s access to alcohol and drugs. However, addiction doesn’t just stop because access is reduced. These substances are still readily available, only with certain obstacles to obtaining them. And these obstacles can contribute to feelings of desperation in someone who struggles with addiction.

The pandemic has also created many different hardships, causing excess stress for many people. Fear of catching the virus, sadness for the lives lost, and changes in routine, as well as loneliness experienced from the social isolation, are all emotions that can contribute to an increased desire to use drugs or alcohol. Working from home instead of the office, experiencing reduced work hours or income, and job loss can also contribute to these stressors. These hardships can drive a person to use substances, relapse in their addictions, or overdose.

How COVID-19 Has Affected Addiction

Addiction and Social Isolation

Due to COVID-19, most areas have been under strict orders to stay at home or shelter in place. These recommendations mean that people are isolated from their social networks. In isolation, addiction can intensify as the feelings of loneliness, depression, and stress increase. The heightened anxiety associated with the virus isn’t helping things either.

Increased Chances of Overdose During the Pandemic

The stress of the current pandemic can lead someone to take higher doses of their drug of choice, increasing the risk of an overdose. Additionally, because of social distancing, more drug users may be using alone instead of with a group of friends. This means that no one else is around to administer a life-saving dose of naloxone or to call 911 for help.

Even if someone can call 911, our healthcare system is overtaxed right now, dealing with COVID-19 so that the emergency response could be much slower. Perhaps even scarier than this, reports claim that certain police forces are refusing naloxone administration out of fear that the patient may awake, coughing on the officer, and putting them at risk of COVID-19 particles. Science doesn’t necessarily support or confirm these fears, and refusing naloxone treatment means that more patients could die of an overdose.

How COVID-19 Impacts Addiction Recovery

How COVID-19 Impacts Addiction Recovery

COVID-19 isn’t just affecting addiction itself; it’s also having a significant impact on treatment and recovery processes. Because of social distancing orders and restrictions on businesses and gatherings, many treatment facilities and systems have been disrupted. Some treatment facilities have had to limit services, cancel specific programs, reduce, or stop new admissions, or close completely. For someone suffering from addiction, this means that their options to get qualified help are severely limited.

Many outpatient programs and group therapy sessions have either stopped or moved toward virtual treatments over phone or video calls. But the camaraderie of group support and personal nature of in-person therapy can be so important to someone in recovery. Without this level of support, the recovery process can be more of a struggle, with a higher probability of relapse or overdose. Additionally, it can be harder for someone struggling with addiction to reach out for help or answer the phone or tune in to a video chat when they are missing that in-person connection.

Sometimes in addiction treatment, medications like methadone are used to help the individual wean themselves from drugs. These medications are usually dispensed in limited amounts and controlled environments. But now, with social distancing, these treatments are also limited. Some patients may be eligible to pick up a 14-day, or even 28-day supply at a time now to avoid standing in line and risking exposure to the virus. Unfortunately, many patients are not eligible for these doses and still must wait in line or struggle to find open facilities during the pandemic. Programs offering clean needles are also limited at this time.

COVID-19 Is Impacting Addiction Recovery Relapse Rate

Even during normal circumstances, relapses are incredibly common during recovery. However, the current pandemic seems to be increasing the relapse rates for many people who suffer from addiction. With the stress of the current situation, job loss and economic hardships, lack of socialization, and uprooted routines, relapses are on the rise as many find sobriety more challenging to maintain during this time.

How to Avoid Relapse During the Pandemic

While some people may be isolating alone, if you are isolated with, or in close contact with, a loved one in recovery, there are some signs you should watch for:

  • Lack of good eating and sleeping habits
  • Lack of proper hygiene routines
  • Contact with friends who use substances
  • Repeated lying
  • Bottled up emotions
  • Missing or avoiding virtual support meetings and appointments

If you notice your loved one exhibiting these warning signs, what should you do? First, reach out and show your support and encouragement. It’s essential to be firm and hold them accountable, but also to be encouraging and optimistic. Even though it may seem that the options are more limited than ever during the pandemic, plenty of treatment facilities are still open, and lots of options for getting help. A relapse during this time should be taken seriously, and you can offer to help find an appropriate treatment facility.

Maryland Recovery is Open During the Pandemic

Outpatient Addiction Recovery in Maryland Open During the Pandemic

Offering holistic remedies that treat each patient as a whole individual, with all aspects of their health and lifestyle, Maryland Recovery remains open to patients. We take a unique approach and treat all the underlying causes of addiction in a nurturing environment. We are also adhering to CDC guidelines for the safety of all our clients.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction during this pandemic, please don’t be afraid to call and ask for help. We’re here for you and want to help as many individuals in Maryland as we can. Our community matters to us and we are all connected. Our recovery program offers plenty of time for reflection and mental care as well as treatment for addiction. Please call us any time to learn more.

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About Ravikumar Bhalavat, M.D.

Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.

  • "Maryland Recovery gave me the tools and counseling to accept my past and forge a new future for myself. Life today has a hope and brightness to it that had not experienced before. I got a job and an apartment with the help of Maryland Recovery. I am able to be part of my family’s life again."
  • "I am certain that this program helped save my life. I was provided with an opportunity to learn how to live a sober life. I learned to be responsible and accountable for my behavior. When practicing the principles of the program and remaining willing to grow on this journey, I experience a freedom I never knew, but always wanted."
  • "The only things that I knew when I arrived at Maryland Recovery (MR) was that I was broken: spiritually, emotionally, and physically broken and that my way of doing things had gotten me there. The people at MR understood who I was better than I did. They assured me that I was not alone, with that came a glimpse of hope and some relief."
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