Coping With COVID-19 If You Struggle With Drugs and Alcohol Addiction

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As the shelter-in-place orders continue, so does the isolation, stress, and loneliness.  The disruption in regular routine can shake even the most grounded person.  Experts warn that persons suffering from drug and alcohol addiction are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, feeling isolated, and increase in drug/alcohol use.

Why Addicts Have a Greater Risk of Contracting COVID-19

COVID-19 poses more threat to persons who have underlying conditions.  Those who have compromised respiratory systems must be even more cautious since the virus attacks the respiratory system.  Vaping and smoking tobacco or marijuana compromises the lungs increasing the risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, and other respiratory diseases (Volkow, 2020).  Methamphetamines and opioids also increase the risk of underlying conditions.  Specifically, methamphetamines may cause pulmonary damage, pulmonary hypertension, and cardiomyopathy (Volkow, 2020).  In other words, lung and heart damage.  Opioids slow breathing, causing hypoxemia, leading to heart, lung, and brain damage (Volkow, 2020).

Don't let the facts alarm you.  Risk does not mean that you certainly will get COVID-19.  Although smoking and using drugs places you at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, choosing treatment now can reduce your risks.  

Isolation

Many are feeling the sting of loneliness and disruption from the quarantine.  Danvers (2020) noted that loneliness is related to being more irritable, depressed, and increased self-centeredness.  Maybe you've noticed on social media, people who are generally uplifting and cheerful have increasingly become harsher and more judgmental with their posts.  Perhaps, you've seen your posts becoming more cynical.  Humans are hard-wired for connection and socialization.  We are not designed to be isolated.  Loneliness affects two mechanisms, experiencing increased psychological stress to events and less rest and recovery (Danvers, 2020).  Among those who use drugs and alcohol, increased pressure, and reduced rest can lead to increased substance use.

The Brain and Alcohol and Drug Use

Using and drinking alter the way we think and feel.  Consider a person who experienced a stressful situation and had a drink to relax.  The next time, the person has two drinks.  The relaxing feeling to reduce stress becomes a pattern that can lead to addiction.  NIH (2015) noted that once addicted, cravings increase, and the choice is removed.  Some still believe that addiction is a moral or choice problem.  The brain changes, and the longer one uses, the more brain disruption there is.  Drugs hijack the reward system in the brain and diminish the function in the prefrontal cortex (NIH, 2015).  The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision making and does not function properly with a hijacked reward system (NIH, 2015).

If you have used it for an extended period, you might have noticed that drugs or alcohol no longer make you feel good.  You begin using to stop from feeling bad at the point that using no longer feels pleasurable. Factors that contribute to addiction are adverse childhood experiences, family members who use or drink, stress exposure, and age of first use.

Relapse or Continued Use During Quarantine

If you have some sobriety under your belt during this quarantine, give yourself the credit you deserve.  Perhaps you have not made the decision yet to seek treatment, there is no better time than now.

Newman (2020) interviewed Dr. Nora Volkow, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about drug use dangers during COVID-19.  Dr. Volkow stated that relapse is high, as well as drug and alcohol consumption, because of the increase in stress (Newman, 2020).  Overdose is another potentially deadly consequence of the quarantine.  Because of social isolation, those who live alone might not have the help available if an overdose occurs (Newman, 2020).

Hicks (2020) asserted that boredom can trigger a relapse.  If you had been attending 12-Step meetings, you probably felt connected.  Now that meetings are virtual, the social aspect looks different.  If you relapsed during the quarantine, treatment centers like The Ho Tai Way are prepared to help you regain your life.  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Like learning to ride a bike, when you fall, dust yourself off and get back on.

Coping Skills

The CDC (2020) offers helpful suggestions for coping with the stress of quarantine like healthy eating, deep breathing/meditating, exercise and sleep, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.

  1. Healthy eating. Try a new recipe that appeals to you.  Youtube has plenty of recipes available.  Possibly choose an ethnic dish different from yours that looks yummy.  Limit sugary foods and eat more fruits and vegetables.
  2. Deep breathing/meditating. Most of us do not breathe properly.  We breathe shallowly instead of deeply.  To breathe deeply, the belly, not the chest, should move.  Breathe in through your nose, as if you are smelling beautiful flowers.  Hold for 3 seconds.  Exhale through your mouth as if you are blowing out your birthday candles.
  3. Self-Hug. It's not what you think.  To do a self-hug, place your right hand over your heart and your left hand flat over your bellybutton.  Then breathe like in #2.  The hand placement helps slow the heart and calm you as you breathe.  Your hand over your belly button also tells you if you are breathing correctly.
  4. If possible, take a walk in your neighborhood following social distancing rules.  Youtube has several videos on different types of activities like yoga, strength training, and fat burning.  Find the video that works for you.
  5. Sleep is crucial for optimal functioning.  Limit caffeine intake so that you are not wide awake at bedtime.  Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.  Play some relaxing music like binaural beats or Hz frequencies.  Youtube has videos lasting 8-9 hours to help you stay asleep.
  6. Limit drugs and alcohol. The goal of recovery is abstinence.  Harmful drugs and alcohol exacerbate stress.

Don't hesitate any longer.  The Ho Tai Way is here to help you with your addiction.   Isolation and loneliness are a recipe for continued use or relapse.  We offer group therapy to maximize feelings of connectedness.  We are an exclusive inpatient, women's treatment center located in beautiful Costa Mesa, California, waiting for you to join us.  If you are ready to recover, contact us today.  There is no time like the present.  Call The Ho Tai Way at (714) 581-3974.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. (2020, April 2). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). cdc.gov. 
  • Danvers, A. (2020, March 23). Quarantine and loneliness. Psychology Today. 
  • Hicks, T. (2020, March 22). How people in addiction recovery are dealing with COVID-19 isolation. Healthline. 
  • Newman, K. (2020, April 2). For drug users, COVID-19 poses added dangers. U.S. News. 
  • NIH News in Health. (2015, October). Biology of addiction
  • Volkow, N. D. (2020, April 2). Collision of the COVID-19 and addiction epidemics. American College of Physicians.