Is the Pandemic Fueling Drug Addiction?

Before COVID-19, some 20 million Americans struggled with an active substance-use disorder. Now, many who have never had to deal with the problem find themselves drinking or using far more often, simply to cope with daily stress.

For those who need help, there are time-tested resources available, as well as innovative new ones. DeAnna Crosby, AMFT, LAADC, a licensed therapist and addiction counselor in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., offers her thoughts on the pandemic and substance-use disorder — and how we can take care of ourselves through these uncertain times and beyond.

Experience Life | How has the pandemic affected our substance use?

DeAnna Crosby | So many people tell me, “Wow, my drinking has really amped up during the pandemic, and I’ve started drinking more than I ever have.” People who might have had a slight problem with alcohol, or maybe had a history of problems but had it under wraps, are falling into that again.

I see a lot of media support for day drinking, “wine o’clock,” “wine-thirty.” Day drinking is normalized now. People are bored, they’re sitting at home, and they’re drinking throughout the day. It’s become socially acceptable to drink in the morning. We’re living in a culture right now that’s really supporting what’s turning into addiction.

It’s similar [to the opioid crisis]. It’s maybe not normalized, but as far as being home and being bored, people are turning to substances to help themselves get through the day and not feel lonely. Boredom is a huge trigger for relapse and substance abuse.

EL | Do you think the numbers that show a rise in substance-use disorder are accurate?

DC | I think they’re probably underreported. People don’t report addiction when they’re higher functioning. People who are higher functioning can get up and go to work all day, then drink to blackout every night — that would be considered “active addiction.” But because they’re going to work, we don’t recognize what they’re going through as addiction. So we underreport addiction in our country — and especially right now.

EL | What do you recommend for people who are struggling to manage their substance use?

DC | The opposite of addiction is connection, so I recommend support groups. All 12-step programs are available on Zoom. I was talking to a client recently who had only been to meetings on Zoom; they actually got sober that way. Because they don’t know any different way, they’re embracing it.

I’m also seeing some of my patients with more long-term sobriety [actually like it]. They can attend Zoom meetings whenever . . . they can be in their kitchen, on their treadmill, wherever. So they’re getting a lot of support from their community.

EL | What if someone I love is having trouble with substances? How can I help?

DC | Al-Anon meetings are great places to start. Keep going until you find one you like. People in Al-Anon learn how to set boundaries, they learn how to say no, they learn what’s going to actually be supportive and what’s going to be enabling for their loved one. It’s a challenging line.

This article originally appeared as “A Pandemic Within the Pandemic: The Substance-Use Surge” in the January/February 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Courtney Helgoe

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Courtney Helgoe

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