How Has Covid Impacted Addiction?

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Contrary to popular opinion, it is not the Covid-19 virus that has had a tremendous impact on addiction and drug overdoses in the United States. In fact, it is the heavy-handed government response to this virus that has led to an enormous increase in both addiction and overdoses. And I believe it will continue to have long term effects on this country for years to come. Let’s take a deeper look into just how Covid, and the government’s response, has impacted our culture.

The cause

For most of the country, it was March 2020 when governmental authorities began using methods to control the virus that were largely unproven. Both lockdowns and masks, known and Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPI’s) were considered to be ineffective at stopping a virus in a report published by the World Health Organization in October 2019. However, something changed after this report and both lockdowns and masks were implemented to stop the spread of Covid-19. The effectiveness of these measures will long be debated, however, what cannot be argued is the impact of both masks and lockdowns on addiction.

the effects

The US was already in the midst of a decade long increase in opioid and other drug overdoses. However, the measures implemented to combat Covid-19 caused a dramatic jump in both drug overdoses and deaths in 2020. For example, there was a 320% increase in opioid related deaths among those 21 years old and younger. That is 320%!!! In the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1,237 people died after overdosing on an opioid, compared with 766 in the first 6 months of 2019 and 772 from Sep 14, 2019, to Mar 15, 2020. This same study showed that In the first 6 months of the coronavirus pandemic, an extra 17,843 years of life were lost owing to opioid overdoses compared with the previous 6 months. The American Medical Association (AMA) reported in December that more than 40 U.S. states have seen increases in opioid-related mortality along with ongoing concerns for those with substance use disorders. The facts are there. Addiction and overdoses increased during Covid-19, but why? Sociologists and scientists will be pondering this question for many years to come. Here are a few reasons why there was an increase in addiction and overdoses during the response to Covid-19.

Lack of access

First, shutting down the economy means that access to vital health agencies for the treatment of addiction was increased. Everything from 12-step meetings to Methadone clinics were impacted by the governmental overreach of the Covid-19 response. In an effort to save one life from a virus, which if you are under 70 and have less than 4 comorbidities, you have a 95% chance of surviving, scores of people were denied access to life-saving addiction treatment. Now, you may say that 12-step meetings were held online, however, anyone with even a remote sense of addiction recovery will tell you that online meetings do not provide the type of accountability needed for addiction recovery. It simply is not the same as meeting in person, face to face. It also means that for those who were in the midst of Medical Assisted Treatment (MAT), they were in danger of not getting the necessary treatment needed to continue their journey to recovery. This, undoubtedly, led many to seek out “getting well” by going back to heroin or other opioids. And, when it comes to opioids, the next high can literally be your last. These numbers above reflect this.

girl in mask looking through glass

effects of Isolation

Second, the isolation brought on by the response to Covid-19 caused an increase in mental disorders among adults. In fact, one study showed that 1 in 5 adults developed a mental disorder during the pandemic. When people are told to stay home, jobs and day care are shut down, access to healthcare is impacted and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety increase. Each of these measures increases stress which ultimately can lead to increased drug use. Additionally, the implementation of masks had an unforeseen effect for some. One personal story I heard from someone struggling to stay sober was that wearing a mask at his job all day allowed him to conceal the alcohol on his breath which led to more alcohol abuse while on the job. When I spoke to him, he was in tears stating that he was “at the end of my rope.”

Domestic violence and the Pandemic

A third effect of the governmental response to Covid is the increase in domestic violence. As mentioned, more families were home together more which increased stress. Moms and dads were home more, stressed more, and some drank and used more. Additionally, and ironically, it is school that is where most child abuse is found. When schools were shut down, more kids were impacted by this measure because they didn’t have the visibility of others to see their abuse at home. As someone who is a foster parent, I know that kids in both adoptions and foster care went down during the pandemic mostly because of the fact that schools were shutdown. I believe that history will not be kind to us adults who have failed our children during our response to a virus that has a 95% survival rate and even higher in children.

History will not be kind

It is clear that the heavy handed approach to Covid will continue to show that we were wrong to focus solely on Covid. In fact, heart disease and cancer is still a higher death rate than the virus. And this is even factoring in that only 5% of all Covid deaths were “Covid only” deaths. As we awaken from the fog brought on by lockdowns and mask, we rise to see many numerous deaths in our wake. Now that the country is beginning to open back up, may we learn from our mistakes and never take such a miopic view toward defeating a virus as we did this one.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an addiction. Please know that you are not alone. If anything, I hope this data offers you hope that you are not alone. San Diego Sober Living is a premier sober living located in sunny San Diego. We serve the San Diego recovery community and we would love to help you navigate sobriety. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us today. We are here to help.

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