Over 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder (SUD). A July 2020 study showed a 32 percent increase in non-prescription fentanyl use. This took place between March and May. This report also showed a 20 percent increase in methamphetamine and a 10 percent increase in cocaine use. During this same time, the incidence of drug overdoses rose by 18 percent.
Another study surveyed 1,079 SUD family members. They found that 20 percent reported an increase in their relative’s SUD during COVID-19.
The pandemic is serving as a relapse trigger for those with SUD. The need for physical distancing has reduced access to support services. Keep reading to learn about the connections between the COVID-19 pandemic and addiction relapses.
What Is a Relapse Trigger?
Many factors can cause an individual to return to addictive behavior. The person may use their addiction to avoid or cope with stress. Examples of stressors include problems with finances, relationships, isolation, and work.
Any significant life change or increased stress can serve as a relapse trigger. Relapse symptoms include increased cravings, hunger, anxiety, exhaustion, or depression.
Why Is COVID-19 a Relapse Trigger?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the nation has experienced physical lockdowns. There’s been an increase in unemployment and ongoing financial and health uncertainty.
For those fortunate enough to continue working, ongoing job security may also cause anxiety. Many employees now work from home, which can lead to feelings of isolation. Individuals with children must balance childcare and meeting work expectations.
Overall, the nation’s stress level has increased. To compound this problem, access to healthcare and support services is now limited. This makes it harder to get prescriptions filled and contact healthcare providers.
Virtual appointments and other avenues have been developed to ease this problem. Interruption in face-to-face and group interaction can prove devastating for those with SUD due to the support they provide.
A March 26, 2020 article in the New York Times paints a picture of the pandemic’s impact on those with SUD. The Cleveland outpatient clinic held its daily 3-hour morning therapy on Friday, March 13th. The group included alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and heroin addicts.
The session began with low lights and meditation. There was plenty of coffee and snacks for everyone. Some people were recently out of marriages, jobs, and jail. One individual was attending for the first time.
They shared heartfelt feelings and secrets. Members felt support for their sobriety.
At the end of the meeting, they joined arms and recited the Serenity Prayer. They left with wishes for safety and a return on Monday.
That Monday never came. People were left hanging without their safety net. Their risk of relapse increased that day.
The COVID-19 Impact on Teenagers
As our nation tries to cope with prolonged fear and stress, our teenagers are suffering as well. Too many adolescents, during normal times, turn to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco to cope with life. Puberty presents many changes and challenges including significant peer pressure.
Recent studies have shown that 60 percent of teens experiment with alcohol by twelfth grade. About 50 percent try marijuana and 20 percent use non-prescribed medications. Between ninth and twelfth grade, 40 percent of teenagers try tobacco.
With the onset of the pandemic, most schools closed and activities were canceled. For many teenagers, this left them without structure and support. Changes in normal routines increased already strained family relationships.
Adolescents lack the maturity to cope with major stressful events. They need the support of parents, school personnel, religious leaders, and community members. Without this network, many teens turn to addictive and risky behavior as a coping strategy.
COVID-19 Mental Health Challenges
Separation from a community increases mental health challenges for many people.
One 48-year-old man with SUD stated, “Being alone five days in a row can get to you, can make you anxious and depressed.” Add the fear of catching a deadly disease by breathing contaminated air or touching something with the virus. The physical distancing required to fight COVID-19 is removing support and increasing isolation.
The pandemic has created a source of trauma for many people. Trauma is often a significant relapse trigger for addiction. Trauma increases stress levels and narrows a person’s ability to focus on problem-solving. This leads to poor coping mechanisms such as substance abuse.
Actions Taken to Decrease COVID as a Relapse Trigger
Many organizations are enacting changes to previous protocols and recommendations. Experts have responded to the pandemic’s emotional impact by developing new problem-solving approaches.
Two organizations are actively working to make changes. These include:
- The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
They’re making it easier for those with opioid use disorders to get buprenorphine and methadone. The DEA is now helping patients get medications to control pain.
The American Medical Association has urged state legislators and governors to become involved. They’ve asked them to adopt the SAMHSA and DEA guidelines as written for the duration of the pandemic. This means more flexible evaluation and prescribing criteria and the use of telemedicine.
These guidelines make several requests. Examples include removing prior authorization, step therapy, and other obstacles to medication access.
They encourage enforcing parity laws for meaningful substance use and mental health disorders. States are also asked to support programs that provide sterile needles and syringes.
Are You Looking for Help with Addiction?
If you have a history of substance use disorder, watch for signs of relapse. The COVID-19 pandemic has become a relapse trigger for addiction. Cenikor offers a place to strengthen your foundation for improving your health and lifestyle.
Our program focuses on alcohol and drug addiction as well as mental and behavioral health concerns. Cenikor provides quality treatment for adolescents and adults.
Don’t wait. Contact us today to speak with one of our compassionate admission advisors. They will answer your questions and help you move toward a new life.