Many of my adult clients during these past 3 weeks have indicated an uptick in their consumption of alcohol. Others, after years of giving it up entirely or decreasing use, have resumed smoking pot on a regular basis. And still others have either experienced an intensity of craving or have resumed vaping or smoking cigarettes. In this time of heightened stress, I am not the least bit surprised. I also am heartened that they are sharing these changes in their behaviors with me, their therapist, because it means a) they are aware, and b) they want to be accountable. That said, while the idea of "day drinking" and virtual cocktail hours are socially acceptable by most people's standards, accepting the increase in substance use runs the risk of normalizing and condoning potentially addictive behaviors. Further, social media memes about pot can spin a false narrative that it's an effective coping strategy. And finally, regular and repeated use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs negatively impacts the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness, including coronavirus.
Here are some things to keep in mind when assessing your own behaviors:
Has your focus narrowed in on the drink or the hit, making all else fade in importance.
Your usual 2 beers has become 4 or 1 joint has become 2 per day.
You've lost interest in or ability to complete other tasks.
Your behavior with others has changed to increased levels of irritability, isolation, moodiness, lying, or secrecy.
Individuals in recovery or those who are actively dependent on and/or abusing substances such as ecigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and illegal drugs may be at greater risk during this pandemic. Many of these individuals already experience marginalization. Many also rely on regular meetings, support groups, and input from clinicians or psychotropic intervention to aid in their recovery. All of these services have either changed to a virtual format or are inaccessible during the current quarantine.
From the National Institute on Drug Abuse (a division of National Institute of Health or NIH), here are some valuable resources on recovery specific to the coronavirus. Please note, these resources also apply to those who are concerned that their current use is becoming problematic and they want support.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Coping With Coronavirus: Managing Stress, Fear, and Anxiety, Director's Blog
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Virtual Recovery Resources for Substance Use and Mental Illness. Includes links to online meetings and recovery support resources offered by various mutual help groups and other organizations, as well as information on setting up a virtual meeting.
Addiction Policy Forum and CHESS Health
Connections App. Free research-based smartphone app to help people with recovery from substance use.
Center on Addiction
Resources for Parents, Families, and Caregivers. Provides mobile (phone- and text-based) education and support for family members struggling with a loved one’s addiction as well as links to other virtual resources.
Faces and Voices of Recovery
Faces & Voices of Recovery is dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the over 23 million Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, their families, friends and allies into recovery community organizations and networks.
Shatterproof is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in the United States.
Unity Recovery, WeConnect, SOS Recovery, and Alano Club
Offering online recovery support group meetings five times daily, a daily family and loved one recovery support meeting, and weekly LGBTQ+ and Women’s Only recovery meetings.
Further, as Nora's Blog points out on the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse website:
"We know very little right now about COVID-19 and even less about its intersection with substance use disorders. But we can make educated guesses based on past experience that people with compromised health due to smoking or vaping and people with opioid, methamphetamine, cannabis, and other substance use disorders could find themselves at increased risk of COVID-19 and its more serious complications—for multiple physiological and social/environmental reasons. The research community should thus be alert to associations between COVID-19 case severity/mortality and substance use, smoking or vaping history, and smoking- or vaping-related lung disease. We must also ensure that patients with substance use disorders are not discriminated against if a rise in COVID-19 cases places added burden on our healthcare system."
Because of these concerns, those with substance abuse histories need to maintain their level of care because of their heightened risk of contracting and suffering more severely from coronavirus: