Covid Addiction: The Unspoken Crisis

covid addiction

As the country begins to open up, an unexpected side effect of the shutdown has become glaringly obvious. Dubbed as “The Covid Addiction Crisis”, medical experts have announced an alarming rise in substance abuse during quarantine. 

“Extended social isolation can lead to the development of substance use disorders. Those with previous substance use disorders are even more vulnerable. This could be a serious threat to worker safety and cost tens of thousands in productivity losses, absenteeism and presenteeism, and workers’ compensation claims if employers do not plan ahead,” the NSC said in a statement.” – SHRM

The pandemic shutdown lead to widespread loneliness and anxiety overnight, meanwhile our country was already facing a substance abuse epidemic. In hindsight this was the set up for a perfect storm.

And while this increase in substance abuse may be unsurprising to some (myself included), you will be surprised at how much it may affect you. 

A Wave Of New Alcoholism 

Alcohol consumption rates have (unsurprisingly) increased astronomically.

covid addiction
Source: Nielsen

“Nielsen reports alcohol sales in stores were up 54% in late March compared to that time last year, while online sales were up nearly 500% in late April.” 

“According to a Morning Consult poll of 2,200 U.S. adults conducted in early April, 16% of all adults said they were drinking more during the pandemic, with higher rates among younger adults: One in 4 Millennials and nearly 1 in 5 Gen Xers said they had upped their alcohol intake.”Heart.org

The highest increase in alcohol consumption has occurred in the Millennial age group. An age group that has historically shown lower drinking rates than previous generations. 

Health officials have plenty of concerns about individuals from the ages of 25-35. Many Americans do not fully understand understand the dangers that alcohol dependency can truly cause. Withdrawal from alcohol can lead to seizures and sometimes death. 

There are thousands of Americans creating dependencies and not realizing it until they return to work. 

Source: Addictions.com

Amanda, 27, Queens

We spoke with Amanda from Astoria, Queens. She works remotely as an account executive for an undisclosed company. Amanda lives alone and has worked remotely in her 350-sq foot studio apartment since the end of February. 

“I’ve talked to my friends about this so I know I’m not alone. But during lockdown happy hour just kept getting closer and closer to noon.

It started with drinking after work and making our own “happy hours”. Zoom calls with co-workers, friends or family, and you all just drink together and laugh. And you don’t think anything of it you’re all saying ‘screw it it’s a pandemic drink up’. 

Well obviously people got bored of almost daily zoom calls. I think people just fell into their own holes. And if yours happens to be a small apartment in New York all on your own you start to go a little stir crazy. 

Before long I was drinking alone after work. Doing what I was normally doing. Watching trash TV and making dinner. But drinking along while doing that wasn’t normal behavior for me. At the time though nothing felt normal. 

covid addiction

Less than a month later drinking alone is now starting during work. Usually around 3pm. Then continues through the night. I started skipping dinner. 

Before long I was cracking High Noons WAY before noon. 10am. Then all the way until bed around 9pm. Rinse and repeat.

After a week of this I knew I clearly had a problem. I did it to myself. I’m embarrassed to bring it up to anyone. And I am absolutely terrified at the thought of having to return to the office. My anxiety was already high. Now it is through the roof, and I’m worried that I won’t be able to function without it (alcohol).”

Amanda is right that she’s not alone. She is one of many victims to the Covid addiction crisis.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the national addiction pandemic have collided. People who once had fully functioning social and professional lives have turned to drugs and alcohol during this time to cope with isolation and anxiety.

Covid Addiction By The Numbers

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there is an undeniable connection between Covid-19 and addiction. 

And the substance abuse goes way beyond alcohol.

“There is a surge of addictive behaviors (both new and relapse) including behavioral addiction in this period. Withdrawal emergencies and death are also being increasingly reported. Addicted people are especially facing difficulties in accessing the healthcare services which are making them prone to procure drugs by illegal means.”NCBI

We all know but seem to have forgotten how serious substance abuse and mental healthcare was in the United States pre-Covid. The United States is and has been facing a pandemic of drug addiction long before the shutdown.

Now these two pandemics have merged into what could become a large public health threat. One that worries both health experts and economists alike.  

The EHS reports that alcohol sales nationwide have gone up 250% since March. – Source

covid addiction
Source: Nielsen

But the use of illegal and prescription drugs is on the rise as well.

According to Kipu Health, since March, opiod overdoses in large cities have risen by 54% in 16 different states. – Source

Millennium Health ran a study from March through the end of May which tested urine in sample sizes of 500,000 throughout the country. – Source

These were the most alarming results: 

  • 32% increase in un-prescribed fentanyl
  • 20% increase in methamphetamine use

The University of Baltimore ran a nationwide study as well through the pandemic and reported suspected drug overdoses increased by over 18% – Source

A Community Being Ignored

Addicts in recovery are of course the most at risk for falling back into old patterns when faced with isolation, worry, lack of healthcare, and/or an overarching feeling of boredom. All the things that came with Covid shutdowns.

Seeing your therapist, drug counselor, or even attending an AA meeting was suddenly no longer an option for recovering addicts. 

A large majority of addicts have underlying disorders. The nation, the community, the media, they all cause panic and worry in someone who is already generally anxious or depressed. 

Countless addiction recovery meetings have been put on hold across the country.

“Anxiety over COVID-19 may be stopping some people from seeking treatment for an addiction when they truly need it. However, in many cases, people are more likely to die from their addiction than COVID-19, especially with a dangerous addiction to opioids.”Source

According to the CDC, drug overdose was the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States. – CDC

Our nation is aware of the drug crisis. Pre-covid the media put a large emphasis on the importance of mental health and substance abuse. So it’s surprising to see now just how much the Covid addiction crisis is being overlooked.

And you can see the lockdown had its effect on those struggling with substance abuse:

“Recent statistics from front-line professionals paint a deeply concerning picture regarding opioid addiction and COVID-19. 96% of medical and treatment professionals reported that patients with an opioid use disorder have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

92% of front-line professionals stated that opioid use has increased “somewhat” to “a lot.” 94% of front-line professionals report that social isolation has led to an increase of 94% in relapses.”Source

The Shutdown Has Created New Addicts

There is another concerning facet of this phenomenon – the increase of substance abuse in individuals who previously were not addicts. 

Unsurprisingly, this new rise in substance abuse comes mostly in the form of alcoholism.

But another side of the Covid addiction crisis is surprising, isolation and increased anxiety has caused a spike in abuse of personal prescriptions. Mainly in the form of amphetamines and benzodiazepines (SMHSA). Both of which can lead to high dependency.

“Not surprisingly, benzodiazepine prescriptions have skyrocketed since the pandemic began. A new study of over 3 million people found that prescriptions for this medication class spiked 34% from mid-February to mid-March, right as the media started talking more about the novel coronavirus.”WBUR

This is the facet of the Covid addiction crisis that is most concerning to health experts. Individuals abusing substances when they had no prior history of substance abuse in the past.

covid addiction
Experts warn the collision of these pandemics will have detrimental effects on the recovery of the country.

As with alcohol, many of these individuals do not understand the dependency they are creating until it is too late. By that point anxiety or shame causes them to avoid going back to the healthcare professional. 

In the worst case scenarios, these individuals are sometimes looking to the streets to feed their addiction. 

In almost every case the new addict reports to the National Health Hotline that their job performance is suffering severely due to their new habit. 

Covid Addiction: The Effects On The Nation And Economy

A nationwide shutdown is going to come with unexpected consequences. The Covid addiction crisis is one of these consequences.

The NSC expects the Covid addiction crisis to effect non-users in the work place as well as workplace productivity, and detrimental effects to the economy at large.

As mentioned they released the following statement regarding the Covid Addiction crisis:

“Extended social isolation can lead to the development of substance use disorders. Those with previous substance use disorders are even more vulnerable.

“This could be a serious threat to worker safety and cost tens of thousands in productivity losses, absenteeism and presenteeism, and workers’ compensation claims if employers do not plan ahead,” the NSC said in a statement.” – SHRM

The NSC expects substance abuse has only increased since their initial statement.

Millions of Americans are thriving in remote life. Many don’t plan on coming back. They are moving from NYC to Savannah and loving it. But the evidence is clear that there are millions struggling with this new normal as well, and many are not coping in the right ways. 

We will see in the coming months just how much of an effect this will have on the nation. With mental health and drug counseling on stand by, the Covid addiction crisis is a topic that remains undiscussed.

The longer we ignore the rise of mental health and substance abuse issues from the nationwide shutdowns, the slower we get back to any sort of normalcy. 

If you or a loved one are experiencing any addiction or substance abuse issues and are seeking help, contact SAMSHA to get support and resources 24/7 on their helpline. 

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