Consider these statistics from the recent AddictionPolicy.org COVID-19 survey:
- Twenty percent of respondents reported increased substance use since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
- One in three respondents (34%) report changes in treatment or recovery support services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fourteen percent reported being unable to access needed services.
- Three percent of respondents (3%) reported a non-fatal overdose, and 1% reported a fatal overdose since the pandemic began. The South Atlantic region reported the greatest number and percent of overdoses.
- The top emotions reported by respondents are worry (62%), sadness (51%), fear (51%) and loneliness (42%).
- Eighty-seven percent of those who report access disruptions (n=266) also report emotional changes since the pandemic began, compared to 72% of those who do not report access disruptions (n=806).
- Forty-eight percent of patients and families reported fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 as a top concern, followed by spreading the virus (46%) and social isolation (40%).
Numbers tell a story, but they don’t tell a complete story. They don’t tell the story of someone sitting by herself with a bottle of vodka, the news on mute; they don’t tell the story of someone popping pills to get to sleep and quiet the brain; or the story of yet another person, maxing out her credit card on online shopping. Or perhaps they do tell a story, especially in the section where respondents talked about their emotions, with overwhelming feelings of worry, sadness, fear, and loneliness.
Those are very dangerous emotions, especially for those who tend to deal with challenges by using self-sabotaging soothing techniques such as drinking, gambling, or even sex. Trying to distract ourselves with those dangerous external dopamine-kickers is really like adding fuel to the fire. Yet, it is hard not to want quick fixes when the world seems to be crumbling all around us.
I don’t have a golden solution to how to deal with the pandemic’s fallouts, but I know that as with everything else, humans are very resilient, and those of us who need help shouldn’t give in to despair. If you’ve slipped, relapsed, or if you’re worried that you might, call your friends in recovery now. Talk to someone! Getting a professional source to help you might take some time considering those numbers jumped so high, but it is possible; you just need something in-between and that something is not another drink or shopping online or doing something that will temporarily take the sadness away. The sadness will come back twofold, the addiction will drown you, render you helpless and even more desperate.
I think because we’ve all experienced COVID-19 and have all been affected by it in one way or another—losing our freedoms, losing our jobs, losing loved ones—we are more attuned to one another and more prone to help. I don’t have statistics for that. But I can see all over social media people mobilizing to assist those who might be in need. I know it’s a massive challenge for people with addiction to reach out to others—it is, after all, a disease of isolation—but please know that your life is worth fighting for and that there will be help and resources out there. For now, everyone is scrambling a little bit and trying to come up with alternative solutions.
Just last month, Shatterproof, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and OpenBeds, an Appriss Health company, revealed a launch of an online assessment tool. According to the press release, “The online resource features a set of consumer-friendly, expert-developed questions to assess the needs of a person with addiction and produce guidance on the type of treatment that is most appropriate for them. The free resource is available nationwide and comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated an already fragmented addiction treatment system in the U.S.” For now, “The thirteen-question assessment will be available on www.treatmentconnection.com, an OpenBeds solution, www.Shatterproof.org/addictionassessment, and www.asam.org for individuals or their loved ones to complete.”
I hope others will follow these solutions as we all try to rebuild and recover in the time of scary stats. For now, stay in touch with others, reach out for help, and don’t be ashamed of your emotions—they are there to tell you something is wrong and that you need help.
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