Isolation and job loss often result in low self-esteem, increased depression, higher rates of substance misuse, and worse addiction treatment outcomes. We knew this before 2020, but COVID-19 shed a spotlight on it like never before. Within weeks of the pandemic’s inception, there was an unprecedented spike in opioid-related deaths and a staggering 55 percent increase in alcohol sales. Overall, illicit drug use has increased by 36 percent.
We had hoped that by now – six months later – these numbers would have improved. But the pandemic has persisted, so mental health issues and substance use have only worsened. Recent data shows that:
- 56 percent of young adults (ages 18-24) have reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, 25 percent have reported increased substance use, and 26 percent reported suicidal thoughts.
- Adults in households that experienced job loss or lower incomes have reported higher rates of symptoms of mental illness than those without job or income loss (53% vs. 32%).
- Essential workers, in particular, have reported higher rates of anxiety, depression, increased substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.
Are you or a loved one struggling now, more than ever, with a substance use disorder and/or addiction? Or perhaps you’ve noticed for the first time that a loved one has a problem to begin with, after spending so much more time together at home?
Despite the documented risks, we’ve found that many individuals are avoiding addiction treatment because of COVID-19. Given what we know about the virus – scientifically, economically, and socially – these concerns are not unfounded. However, we challenge you to reframe and consider the alternative. What happens if you don’t seek the professional help you need, during a pandemic that has exacerbated the preexisting mental health crisis in our country, and contributed to record high overdose rates?
Read on to learn why some people are hesitant to seek addiction treatment during the pandemic, and why avoiding it may pose a greater risk to your health and your loved ones.
Common reasons for avoiding addiction treatment during COVID-19
Social distancing. The obvious reason is COVID-19 itself. Since experts have said that social distancing is the primary antidote to the spread of the virus, there’s fear of contracting it while at rehab.
Stigma. There’s still a stigma surrounding addiction. Despite widespread research proving that it’s a disease and not a character flaw, some people still make false and hurtful assumptions about what it means to have an addiction and/or go to rehab. Even though having an addiction makes you more susceptible to COVID-19, their fear of judgment by going to rehab has proved stronger than fear of the virus.
Isolation. Social isolation has made substance use/addiction worse, but it’s also made it easier to hide. This is especially true if you live alone, since your drinking and/or drug use habits are not on display for others to see. Addiction feeds on isolation.
Family. Households have had to adjust to new ways of life, such as remote work and virtual learning (not to mention managing the both of them in one space, which has become a strenuous balancing act). Parents with addiction fear leaving their spouse alone to handle these responsibilities. They also worry about potential financial implications of taking time off (i.e. losing their job, unpaid leave, etc).
Access. In a study examining opioid use during the pandemic, close to 20 percent of respondents reported not having a cell phone or other form of web communication to help find and coordinate treatment. For others, cost is what limits their access. In a 2018 study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – comprised of nearly 1 million individuals who needed addiction treatment but did not get it – 1 in 3 cited lack of health insurance/cost as the main access barrier.
Stress and exhaustion. Many lack the energy needed to find a treatment center that meets their needs. They’re consumed by the everyday demands of our “new normal” and view the process as added stress instead of the pathway toward better health (if this sounds like you, we can make it easier – check out our recent blog, How to Pick the Right Drug or Alcohol Rehab Center: A 5-Step Process).
The media. We see a lot in the media – particularly on social platforms and other news sites – that have glamorized alcohol as a solution to stress during the pandemic (“Mommy wine culture” is one such example). Regardless of where and from whom you consume content (influencers, brands, family and friends), this narrative has likely made it into your feed at some point. This is not a new phenomenon, though; we saw it before the pandemic, but now it’s only worsened. Normalizing stress drinking the media is problematic for all people, but poses a more immediate risk to those living with an alcohol use disorder, because it gives them an “out.”
- If you’re aware that you have a problem but are still using, you may feel less inclined to seek help, or even that you’ve been absolved of the responsibility. It essentially gives them an “out.”
- If you’re still using but have yet to identify that you have a problem, you may never realize it.
- If you’re already sober, it can be triggering. And since alcohol is easy to get, it may feel more difficult to overcome the urge (which supports our argument in the next section).
Reasons why avoiding addiction treatment during the pandemic still poses a greater risk to your health – and why you can feel safe going.
If the reasons we listed above sound familiar to you or your loved one, we understand. However, we still believe that not getting treatment is worse.
Drug use is deadlier right now.
The drugs you took yesterday may not be the drugs you’ll take tomorrow. In other words, what you think you’re getting may not be what you’re actually getting. This is because of tighter border control related to COVID-19, which has caused a drug shortage. To counter this, drug traffickers have increasingly relied on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, because it’s cheap, easy to manufacture, and significantly strengthens the high (it’s 80 percent stronger than morphine). Lacing drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, with fentanyl, puts you at a significantly greater risk for overdose and death (from just a single pill).
Addiction feeds on the very thing that has become a hallmark of the pandemic: isolation.
A 2020 analysis predicted that, until leaders put more time and resources into our country’s collective healing from isolation, deaths due related to substance abuse and suicide will continue increasing at alarming rates. As the pandemic continues to rage on, the process of healing will continue to be prolonged. Therefore, unless you take action, it’s unfortunately fair to suspect that fatal outcomes are not out of the question – if anything, the risk will increase.
If addiction needs isolation to survive, though, that means that connection is its antidote.
A treatment center is one of the very few places right now where you can feel safe around people (see details below) and feel a sense of community and belonging.
Many of our clients during the pandemic have said that they feel more motivated, connected, and confident after completing our program, and appreciative of the care we’ve put into our COVID-19 precautious. Despite the pandemic, going to treatment is often the most appealing and preferred option when compared to the unstructured, unpredictable life that active addiction can cause.
Many treatment centers, including Crest View, have enhanced health and safety measures.
- We pre-screen ALL incoming clients, administer the COVID-19 Rapid Test for all newly admitted patients, and routinely test our entire Crest View Staff to ensure a safe treatment environment.
- For those requiring detox before entering Crest View’s recovery program, we’re more committed than ever to helping them coordinate that care. It’s absolutely essential that you safely detox under the guidance and supervision of medical professionals.
Completing an addiction treatment program will help you better cope with the pandemic and its long-term impact.
At Crest View, in particular, we’re dedicating a lot of time to discussing triggers that the pandemic has created — how to identify them, overcome them, and avoid them in the future.
We’ve also put more energy into aftercare planning, to ensure that when clients complete our program and leave our facility, they feel confident in their ability to continue their recovery amidst the pandemic. We’ve gotten creative in how we connect our clients with sponsors and alumni and have expanded the resources we provide them as they continue their recovery “in the real world.” This is all a part of our personalized and reality-based holistic addiction treatment approach, which you can learn more about here.
Are you ready to find your silver lining of COVID-19?
By continuing to feed your addiction each and every day – especially during social distancing – you’re living a life of imminent risk, with fatal or near-fatal consequences at an all-time high. Knowing that it IS possible to find a safe treatment center during the pandemic, are you willing to take the chance?
Don’t let the pandemic stop you from getting help. Your story could be that you got sober during a pandemic!
Still not convinced? Check out another one of our blogs — Hesitant About Rehab or Getting Treatment? Here’s Our Advice — where we dive deeper into the barriers and objections we described earlier, and provide a counter argument for each – backed up by research – to help alleviate your concerns.