The recent effects of coronavirus COVID-19 have come as a shock to almost everyone. In addition to respiratory illnesses, the virus is also contributing to rising cases of alcohol and substance abuse. Depending on the extent of each case, those second-order effects of COVID-19 can result in deaths, too.
In this article, we define alcohol abuse and substance abuse, and we explore how lifestyle changes from COVID-19 can affect those issues. Understanding the relationship between COVID-19 and substance abuse issues is important, as the impacts of COVID-19 will continue to affect us for months to come.
What is alcohol abuse and substance abuse?
Alcohol abuse and substance abuse refer to the practice of ingesting alcohol or other substances to the point where they have harmful health effects. Those health problems typically include cognitive impairment in the short term. However, the long-term effects of alcohol abuse and substance abuse include organ failure and even death. Other long-term effects include physical injuries that a person sustains when he is drunk, high, or otherwise cognitively impaired after an episode of ingesting drugs or alcohol.
Alcohol abuse is a subtype of substance abuse. So, when you hear “substance abuse,” the term refers to the abuse of both alcohol or other drugs. Alcohol abuse is a particularly common form of substance abuse, in part because alcohol is so accessible. Unlike many other abused substances, alcohol consumption is legal, and there are few barriers to purchasing alcohol. Alcohol is also inexpensive, and when a person develops an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, they can almost always find a way to access harmful amounts of alcohol.
Substance abuse issues typically start as infrequent events. Over time, a person may begin to abuse substances more often, and the person may even design their social plans around access to their preferred substance. People who regularly engage in substance abuse, despite knowing the harmful effects that the behavior will have on their body, may have substance abuse disorder or alcohol use disorder. In extreme cases, a person may develop a chemical dependency on alcohol or an alternative substance. Chemical dependency occurs when a person develops a physiological need for the substance to carry out activities of daily living.
How the stress of COVID-19 can lead to substance abuse
When a person’s life gets difficult, the person will look for ways to improve their situation and, simply, feel better. Unfortunately, some people will turn to drugs and alcohol to achieve those goals. As mentioned in the previous section, drugs and alcohol abuse can have a variety of short-term and long-term adverse health effects. In some cases, substance abuse issues can even lead to death.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added enormous stress to many people’s lives. Social distancing measures have caused many people to isolate at home, and many people are forgoing in-person socialization with friends and extended family. The economic impact of COVID-19 is a significant source of stress, too. Many people have lost their jobs, and they are not sure how to continue paying their bills and supporting their families. As a result, the increased stress and difficulties from the COVID-19 pandemic have led to new cases of substance abuse as people try to cope with their new reality.
In addition to added stressors from COVID-19, limitations on non-emergency healthcare visits have also led to instances of substance abuse. Some individuals who struggled with substance abuse issues were able to manage their health with professional support before the pandemic. However, social distancing measures and precautions against contracting COVID-19 have caused some at-risk individuals to decrease the frequency of their healthcare appointments. With extra stressors and limited access to behavioral health specialists, COVID-19 has caused some at-risk individuals to return to an unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol.
What to do if you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse
Individuals who struggle with substance abuse need to know that they are not alone, and behavioral health specialists and medical professionals can help them. Typical treatment programs for people struggling with substance abuse include intensive outpatient programs and group therapy sessions. For some patients, medication that can help hold over cravings for harmful substances is appropriate. More advanced cases where the patient exhibits chemical dependency almost always rely on inpatient programs for effective treatment. Chemical dependency treatment programs typically include residential treatment as patients require around-the-clock access to care.
Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, providers have adapted substance abuse treatment programs to fit with the current environment. Many behavioral healthcare facilities now offer telehealth treatment programs over video conference. Behavioral healthcare professionals can now interact with patients virtually and continue treatment programs during the pandemic with the help of technology. In some cases, patients prefer telehealth treatment plans over in-person visits, as they can access the care they need from the comfort of their own home.
Importantly, many insurance carriers now cover telehealth visits for behavioral therapies. Many insurance companies started to open up to covering telehealth visits before COVID-19, and the pandemic encouraged more carriers to include telehealth coverage. Check with your insurance provider or a substance abuse treatment facility near you to understand the details of your insurance policy.
How Las Encinas Hospital can help
Las Encinas Hospital serves the behavioral healthcare needs of the greater Pasadena, CA community and beyond. We provide intensive outpatient programs, long-term programs for chemical dependency, and group therapy sessions for individuals whos struggle with substance abuse. If you or a loved one has an unhealthy relationship with drugs or alcohol, we want you to know that we are here to help. Additionally, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we now offer a variety of telehealth treatment programs for individuals who struggle with substance abuse and mental health. We believe it is important that patients can access the care they need while maintaining social-distancing protocols.
To get started with a treatment program for substance abuse at Las Encinas Hospital, please call us at (877) 579-8140. You can call us 24/7, and a member of our staff will help you evaluate if a treatment program at Las Encinas Hospital is right for you or your loved one.