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The Correlation Among Substance Use, Mental Health, and COVID-19

According to the American Psychological Association's publication “Substance Use During the Pandemic,” increased stress throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more substance abuse cases. Only three months after the pandemic began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 13% of Americans either started using a substance or increased their current substance use to cope with the stress and anxieties which accompany the pandemic. Additionally, the uncertainty and doubt of COVID-19 have contributed to higher demand for a multitude of mental health service issues.

The Day Everything Changed

It began like any other day of the week, except that citizens of the United States would find themselves living in a strange and unfamiliar world by the day's end. In March of 2020, American citizens were advised to stay home to begin the quarantine process across the nation. Individuals began working from home as states started to shut down. Businesses were closing, and social distancing guidelines were put into place. Panic flooded the United States as the pandemic became a reality. No one knew how to get back to the “normal” way of life, which is what everyone so desperately craved.

Two Years Later: The Psychological Influence of Covid-19

The societal and economic changes around the world have built up walls that caused additional strain on individuals, proving to have had an isolating effect. The isolation has led many individuals to suffer from intensifying symptoms since the pandemic, including increased anxiety, stress, and depression rates.

According to Mandy Owens, a clinical psychologist at the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, individuals may have found themselves with fewer ways to manage increased stress levels. Gyms closed their doors, so physical activity was not an option, and the lack of social interactions left people feeling lonely.

Touch, COVID-19, and Mental Health

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California Berkley, believes, “Touch is the fundamental language of connection. When you think about a parent-child bond or two friends or romantic partners, a lot of how we connect and trust and collaborate are founded in touch."

Touch influences the way we feel emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Some of the common mental health conditions that can generate from lack of touch include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Hopelessness

As a result of these feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, and hopelessness, many individuals are at-risk of self-medicating and misusing substances or alcohol to ease their negative emotions, resulting in overdose and death.

Overdose and the Pandemic

Dr. Wilson Compton from the National Institute on Drug Abuse believes there is a reason behind the rise in overdoses during this pandemic. He states that people could not receive the necessary treatment and counsel at the beginning of the pandemic because many clinics and community-based associations had closed their doors and decreased services.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, studies have shown increased substance abuse and drug overdoses in the United States. The CDC reported more than 93,000 drug overdose deaths, and that was only in 2020. This amount is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded within twelve months.

The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and COVID-19

By now, we know the severity and risk factors that come with COVID-19. However, did you know that individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19? Substance abuse without COVID-19 causes enough harm to the body, and when you add a deadly disease to the formula, the results can be catastrophic.

Different substances have different side effects, for example:

  • Opioids can cause slow breathing leading to decreased oxygen in the blood, causing possible brain damage or death.
  • Cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine can produce serious health problems such as stroke, heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythm, and seizures.
  • Smoking (heroin, crack cocaine, marijuana) can worsen chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and other lung disorders.

COVID-19 impacts the lungs more than any other organ in the body. Therefore, the use of opioids, stimulants, heroin, and marijuana will only increase the risks for poor COVID-19 outcomes.

Finding Treatment for Substance Use Disorder During a Pandemic

All treatment facilities are taking the necessary precautions and steps to ensure that clients and staff are protected from COVID-19. Many clinics initially had to close their doors, but telehealth options for physical and mental health issues have become available. Peer-to-peer support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous have also begun meeting virtually, ensuring there is always somewhere to turn when life gets a little complicated.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) gathers data on all state-licensed treatment providers who focus on treating substance use disorders, addiction, and other mental illnesses. This database will provide you with the names, contact information, and treatment specialties that can help you find the right care for you or your loved ones.

Starting and staying on the road to recovery can be a bumpy ride; even the most minor pothole can turn into a huge sinkhole somewhere down the road if left untreated. If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse or mental health issues, help is available to you. Present Moments Recovery in San Diego, California, offers an individualized and comprehensive approach to addiction, with many levels of care. After ensuring detox has minimized any withdrawal symptoms, we provide residential treatment for the first one to three months of sobriety. Our family-run treatment center offers a comfortable and home-like environment where individualized attention can assist in making sure all your needs are met. You can recover in a home rather than in a facility. Here at Present Moments Recovery, we believe recovery can only happen in the present moment. Give yourself the chance to change. Call us today at (619) 363-4767.



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Mark G
Mark Gladden brings both personal and professional experience to his role as co-founder of Present Moments Recovery. Now in long-term recovery himself after struggling with addiction for years, Mark understands firsthand the challenges men face in achieving and maintaining sobriety. It was this insight, combined with a desire to help others, that led Mark to establish Present Moments Recovery.

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