Struggling with addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic is hard.
Two crises are happening in the US right now: COVID-19 and addiction.
Unfortunately, opioid overdoses in the US rose by 40% in May 2020.
The trouble is, people who have a substance or alcohol use disorder tend to have underlying medical conditions that can increase their chance of becoming seriously ill from the virus.
Whether substance use itself can make a person more susceptible to the virus is yet unclear. But, many people who use drugs and alcohol can have lung or heart problems. These conditions appear to increase the chance of serious illness from COVID.
How Drug Use Affects The Body
Opioids decrease oxygen levels in the body due to a slower heart and breathing rate. This can lead to death or brain damage.
Stimulants such as methamphetamine, amphetamine, and cocaine can cause stroke, heart attack, seizures, and abnormal heart rhythm or long-term conditions such as lung and heart damage.
Vaping and smoking marijuana, crack cocaine, and heroin can cause or exacerbate lung problems such as asthma and COPD.
Substance Use Disorder and COVID-19
Dr. Nora Volkow is the Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In an October 2020 blog post, she has written about a September study in the publication of Molecular Psychiatry. Dr. Volkow and her colleagues analyzed the public health records from 73 million patients in 730 hospitals. 7.5 million (10.3%) of those patients had a SUD and 12,030 had COVID.
The study has concluded that people with SUD and African Americans are most susceptible to contracting COVID-19. 15.6% of the sample with SUDs had COVID in contrast to 10.3% of the total sample.
People Diagnosed With a SUD In The Past Year
The risk of contracting COVID-19 is higher in people who had a diagnosis of a SUD within the past year.
- People with a recently diagnosed opioid use disorder (OUD) were 10.2 times as likely to have COVID as those without a recent diagnosis of a SUD
- People with a recent diagnosis of tobacco use disorder are 8.2 times as likely to have COVID
- Alcohol use disorders are 7.8 times as likely
- Cocaine use disorder 6.5 times as likely
- Cannabis use disorders are 5.3 times as likely
Patients Who Had Ever Had an SUD
Those patients who have previously had an SUD were 1.5 times as likely to catch COVID.
- Patients who had ever had an OUD were 2.4 times as likely
- Cocaine disorder 1.6 times as likely
- Alcohol use disorder 1.4 times as likely
- Tobacco use disorder 1.3 times as likely
People With Lifetime SUDs
Patients with lifetime substance use disorders had more serious outcomes if they contracted the virus.
41% of people with a lifetime SUD were hospitalized as opposed to 30% with a SUD
9.6% of those with a lifetime SUD died of COVID compared to 6.6%
Why Are People With SUDs More Susceptible To COVID-19?
Dr. Volkow surmises that substance use disorders compromise the body’s ability to fight infection.
But it might not just be biological and partly social.
People who are addicted to opioids must interact with drug dealers to buy drugs so they are not socially distancing.
She suggests that social inequality could be to blame for the disproportionate number of African Americans with COVID and Substance Use Disorders. Stigma can prevent people with substance use disorders to seek treatment, and they may receive substandard treatment from healthcare providers.
The Social Impact Of COVID On People With A Substance Use Disorder
It’s not just the virus that is putting people’s health at risk.
Social distancing measures, isolation, fear, anxiety, economic uncertainty, and job losses are impacting people’s mental health.
The worry is that we will see a rise in “deaths of despair” due to suicide, drugs, and alcohol. As many people with a substance use disorder also suffer from mental illness, their chances of relapsing are higher.
Dr. Volkow emphasizes the importance of connectedness during these worrying times. She explains that while people are unable to be physically together, they should make use of technology to keep in touch with each other.
COVID-19 and Drug Use
The pandemic also affects how people use drugs.
The availability of drugs on the black market is lessened and so prices have risen. Drugs are less pure and cut with other substances. Fentanyl is increasingly present in heroin and counterfeit opioid pills so people are at higher risk of overdosing.
Due to flight cancellations and border closures, the availability of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin is reduced and so people turn to riskier street drugs such as benzodiazepines and synthetic cannabis.
There is also a risk in online drug purchasing and taking over the counter medicines such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and codeine.
People in recovery are at risk of relapsing as they struggle to manage mental health problems such as anxiety, PTSD, psychotic symptoms, and sleep disorders.
Those with opioid use disorders who are at home self-isolating have a greater chance of death by overdose as no one else is around to administer the antidote Narcan.
How Does Addiction Start?
Typically, addiction starts when a person continues to use alcohol or drugs after trying them recreationally. When someone takes a substance, the brain releases dopamine which causes pleasurable feelings. When dopamine levels drop the brain craves more of the substance.
It is understood that mental health disorders can lead to substance use disorders as a person uses them to feel better when they’re in a negative state of mind.
It may be that your or your loved one’s addiction is underpinned by a mental health disorder. Getting to the root of mental illness is the first step in tackling addiction.
Mental health problems lead to negative thought patterns, even unconsciously. When a person feels negative thoughts and emotions they often turn to alcohol or substances to numb the pain of their feelings.
At District Recovery Community our trained mental health staff will provide an accurate diagnosis of your mental health and addiction to formulate the correct form of treatment.
The withdrawal symptoms when stopping alcohol or opioids can be so severe that it can cause a person to relapse to escape them.
Medication-assisted treatment combines medication with cognitive behavioral therapy. This has high rates of success.
Inpatient programs are still available during the COVID-19 pandemic but there are new guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
Access To Treatment
COVID’s impact on drug use has led to a sharp rise in demand for access to treatment. Unfortunately, access is hampered by social distancing and quarantine rules, and pharmacies are also impacted by staff shortages and logistical chaos.
Attempts to increase access to services include:
- More flexibility with take-home medication for people with an opioid use disorder.
- Guidelines to facilitate prescribing of medications
- Telehealth to observe people who are dependent on drugs and continue group therapy sessions
Getting Treatment During The Pandemic
It looks like the current virus situation is not going to go soon.
However, it does not mean that a person should not have hope. Interventions are being developed and as a community, we adapt in times of adversity.
It is a common misconception that a person must hit rock bottom before they seek treatment for a substance use disorder. If a person uses substances at all they can benefit from treatment to prevent it from becoming a serious addiction.
While some treatment centers are turning people away due to reduced capacity, others are embracing the situation and implementing solutions to maintain access to treatment.
Restrictions at Treatment Centers
When you check in to a treatment center you will be screened for any COVID-19 symptoms. If you have symptoms, then you may be tested for the coronavirus.
If you test positive, you will be transferred to a facility for infectious people. You will stay in a room with an ensuite bathroom and connect with others via telehealth.
Connectedness with others is an important aspect of recovery. The current health crisis means that drug and alcohol treatment has had to shift to telemedicine to keep everyone safe.
This can have benefits as it is easier to access professional support rather than wait for a doctor or counselor to visit. It also gives peace of mind that the virus isn’t transmitting further.
Virtual Recovery Services
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration emphasizes the importance of staying connected with others and vital services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In-person recovery and 12 steps meetings are typically a lifeline for people to maintain a successful recovery. People need to understand that just because the face to face meetings have stopped it doesn’t mean that support isn’t there.
Online recovery meetings are just as effective as they are face to face. All that is needed is a phone, laptop, or tablet with an internet connection.
They have created a list of virtual services that anyone can access. The list provides helpful website addresses, telephone numbers, and information about each type of virtual support.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance or alcohol use disorder, it is possible to seek the right help to overcome it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At District Recovery Community, we can provide a suitable treatment program tailored specifically to your needs. You need to contact someone right away to discuss treatment options and get the ball rolling. You or your loved one could be getting the support they need within days. Call us today at 844.287.8506.