How Is Addiction Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Due to the uncertainties of COVID-19, addictive behaviors are more prevalent.

Posted Jan 14, 2021

 Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash
With the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, addiction tendencies have trended up to deal with the stressors in life.
Source: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

Over the past year, the country and the world has been turned completely upside down and inside out because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been businesses closed and individuals that have been negatively affected. During the beginning of the crisis, most of the states went to a stay at home order unless you were an essential employee. The pandemic has become a problem for individuals who suffer from addictive behaviors. The reason for this is because of all the shutdowns of recovery-related meetings across the country.

When an individual is isolated at home and there is nothing to do, the individual often turns to things that are deemed unhealthy for them. In the case of the person with substance use disorder, that could develop into a variety of challenges that could cause them to relapse. This is because life becomes hard and this causes the individual to seek out things that are self-soothing.

When lockdowns and shutdowns were the new reality in April, the National Council on Problem Gambling warned that people with gambling problems may be affected more severely by the pandemic due to increased individual health risks, shifting gambling preferences, and cuts in funding for services.

Each and every day, millions of individuals spend countless hours playing online games. This fact is only enhanced when you factor in that there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. The circumstances of being housebound with a limited amount of activities available are almost ripe for online gaming because of the ability to maintain enjoyable and social communication.

For an individual who is addicted to any form of substances, the boredom factor will eventually slip into wanting to seek excitement. The person will take the chance of risking their health to go and obtain the drink or the drug.

Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to recent provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the age of the pandemic, uncertainty lingers in the air. Now, new data shows that during the COVID-19 crisis, American adults have sharply increased their consumption of alcohol, drinking on more days per month and to greater excess. Heavy drinking among women especially has soared. 

The study, released by the RAND corporation and supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), compared adults' drinking habits from 2019 to now. Surveying 1,540 adults across a nationally representative panel, participants were asked about their shift in consumption between spring 2019 and spring 2020, during the virus's first peak. 

The three biggest areas show that, for those that were in the hardest-hit areas of the pandemic, 53% of users were trying to cope with the stressors of life, 39% were working to avoid boredom and 32% were simply trying to cope with life and deal with anxiety and depression issues.

It is often a struggle for those who are in active addiction. Individuals who are incarcerated will more than likely find that, with the effect that the pandemic has had on the economy, they will have a tougher time obtaining employment. This is because there are so many businesses that are downsizing and the search for steady employment has become even a bigger challenge for the individual who has just been released from prison.

The crisis has halted some reentry programs entirely, limited the resources available to their clients or forced them to operate virtually. Advocates say some returning citizens will find the help simply isn’t there.

Then there is the always-daunting challenge of finding a job. Without one, released inmates are unable to pay fines and fees associated with reentry, like the supervision fees often required for probation. Maintaining employment is often a requirement of supervision—and failing to do so can count as a violation.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started around March of 2020, the national unemployment rate surged from 4.4 percent in March 2020 to 14.8 percent the following month. While the unemployment rates have slowly decreased over the past several months and were 6.7 percent during the last two months of 2020, there is still that factor of uncertainty.

Now when you factor in the stat that 20 to 25 million individuals have filed for unemployment benefits over the past nine to 11 months, this proves to be an eventually dangerous uphill climb for an individual who has been released from prison only to find that they are fighting with every other individual looking for a job and trying to make ends meet.

Working in a correctional facility with individuals who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, I have learned that employment issues were one of the biggest issues that caused people to resort to their old lifestyles. In essence, a lot of people with substance use disorder who have relapsed have indicated that they could not make ends meet with what they were making, and this in turn led them back to their addictive behaviors and the negativity that is often associated with those choices.

The one thing that I will tell you is that no matter how much an individual is struggling, there is no excuse for that person to resort to drugs and/or alcohol or the same patterns will continue to lead them back into a dangerous path of relapse, addiction, and criminal thinking patterns. This, in turn, will continue to get the person further and further from his recovery.

There are numerous applications that individuals can access through their smartphone that are valuable resources to an individual in need of recovery help. Formats such as Zoom have allowed people to attend meetings from the comfort of their homes and give them the ability to speak to someone when they are having an urge or a craving for alcohol or other illegal substances.

So, will there ever be a time when we will get back to a sense of normalcy? Only time will be able to answer that question. The main thing as an individual in long term recovery is that no matter how bad things become, I cannot allow myself to go back down that negative pathway towards that demon. I have to continue to focus on recovery and keep moving forward in life.

Taking Recovery One Day at a Time (Days Sober and Counting).

© Michael J. Rounds, 10,000 Days Sober