Drug and Alcohol Addiction During a Pandemic: COVID-19 pandemic has hit differently compared to many other epidemics that have occurred before. It will get marked in history as an era of pain, anxiety, panic, and depression. In case we survive this pandemic as we pray and hope for the very best, the world will be all changed. This pandemic has impacted the restriction of social gatherings, thus no attending the churches, schools got closed, businesses are dissolving every day. And each new day there is an introduction to more and more restrictions which are stricter than the previous ones. This pandemic has even turned the economy upside down. Social distancing means sometimes we do not have to be close to our loved ones like before, It also means people are not even attending their jobs hence financially disabled. 

Research says many people may turn into abusing drugs, also let’s only consider the rates of people who have lost their jobs in the United States currently. After the pandemic, we may face addiction more than even the economic crisis. Just like the coronavirus has affected the world both socially and financially also, it has changed the domain of recovery and addiction. The wave of anxiety and fear that is wafting during this pandemic has contributed to a lot of individuals holding back from continuing or seeking addiction treatment and therapies. 


Generally. addiction affects the body of the user in various means, it weakens the immune system and also alters the functioning of the inner organs. For example, the long term and frequent use of alcohol cause inflammation, pancreatitis, liver cirrhosis, fibrosis, alcohol hepatitis and it’s known for causing various types of cancer and brain damage. These health conditions which are brought by alcohol causes the user to be more vulnerable to the COVID -19 symptoms.

Prolonged abuse of opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, codeine, and hydrocodone causes pulmonary and respiratory complications. Smoking of drugs such as marijuana or tobacco drastically weakens the lungs thus putting long term smokers into a risk of being profoundly affected by the coronavirus. According to the research from the national institute on drug abuse, they reported individuals with substance use disorder and smoker’s coronavirus is a significant threat to them. When COVID-19 infects an individual. It begins with weakening the cells on the lining of the lungs.

Thus the pre-symptoms of coronavirus are fever, headache, fatigue, and dry cough, shortness of breath and muscle pain. The symptoms get more severe after the infection reaches the lower respiratory tract. An individual who has a healthy immune system may be able to recover from the virus when it’s in the upper respiratory tract. However, coronavirus may cause severe impacts in the body such as pneumonia, and bronchitis, in more severe instances which is rare COVID-19 may cause acute respiratory distress syndrome. A healthy individual can fully recover from COVID-19 however if an individual has health complications such as chronic diseases, pulmonary abnormalities then they are at a high risk of not improving or more vulnerable to get severe illness. 


Before I even jump into the effects of COVID -19 to mental health patients, let me point out that mental health and substance abuse are closely linked. Thus approximately fifty percent of individuals with mental disorders are as a result of prolonged use abuse of substances.

When an individual has substance abuse disorder and mental health issues. the condition is referred to as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Basing this conclusion on research, most individual’s abuse drugs to calm down and cope with their mental health. Some individuals confess that after using alcohol. smoking or other drugs, they get temporary relief from anxiety and stress, and they go in the state of nirvana ‘as they say. Fifty-three percent of substance abusers are said to have severe mental disorders, however, thanks to the rehabilitation centers, which offer services of treating the co-occurring condition. Actually, with the increased tensions and stress on the coronavirus, it’s the best time to seek treatment. The increase of COVID 19 pressure may lead to 

  • Worry and fear of loved one’s health and individual’s health
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • More use of tobacco. alcohol and other drugs

Therefore individuals with mental disorders, should continue receiving treatment and pay attention to worsening or new symptoms. WHO has requested people to limit news about coronavirus, which may cause more anxiety and instead get information from the trusted sources. WHO recommends the caregivers, media experts, doctors and first responders to the COVID 19 patients that in the process they may experience emotional toll and develop secondary traumatic stress. Thus in case, they experience fear, social withdrawal, illness, fatigue or guilt they should pull away from the media and allow themselves time for self-care to unwind.


With the environment surrounding this pandemic such as the social distance, risk of substance use may increase, due to stress, isolation, and anxiety caused by COVID19. Therefore the addiction treatment should remain accessible. 


This program is for individuals with a mild addiction, they attend rehab during the day, but they go home. Upon arrival, they are screened for Covid-19 symptoms, in case they test positive they are isolated, and a telehealth treatment plan gets initiated. The patients who don’t have Covid-19 symptoms continue or begin addiction treatment while observing physical distance and sanitation. 


This is a crucial stage for individuals who are in the recovery stage of drug abuse disorder such as the narcotics anonymous and alcoholics anonymous. These meetings currently have stipulated measures such as physical distancing, and sanitary precautions, thus individuals no longer shake or hold hands and hugging. The 12 step meetings are still available through most individuals are afraid of attending them.


Even if most world activities have stopped, the addictions continue. Expert in addiction treatment is accessible, therefore if your loved ones or you are suffering from addiction, reach out in the rehab centers, don’t wait.

Reference: Coronavirus presents new challenges for drug and alcohol addiction recovery
The substance abuse pandemic: determinants to guide interventions

Dr. Vikram Tarugu, M.D, is the CEO of Detox of South Florida, Inc and medical professional focused on addiction. A veteran in the medical field with over 25 years of professional experience. He is a consultant for many South Florida Rehab centers. Patients travel from allover the US to seek his help with addiction and Hepatitis C treatment.

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