Addiction and Isolation Don’t Mix
During this pandemic we all have found ourselves more isolated, perhaps more than ever before.
Unfortunately for an addict and alcoholic, this can spell trouble. Our isolation, and perhaps our stirred-up depression, can lead us to imbibe more than we otherwise might. We justify it easily—it’s stress, I’m lonely, this is how I relax, you name it.
You’re at home with more unstructured time on your hands, watching television, doing busywork or home projects with nowhere to go even if you wanted to and you think, “One drink won’t hurt a thing.” Then you may take it a little further and try to reach a nice keeping-the-fun-in-functional buzz, then…BAM, just like that you’ve had too much. You’ve overdone it again. The next time you’ll do better, you promise yourself. But you don’t and probably can’t do better. You may be barreling toward alcoholism and addiction; maybe you’re already there.
This may not match your story exactly, but it may bare shades of it. Before the pandemic, the obligation to get up the next day, go to work, and be productive helped, or sometimes forced, us to regulate our drinking and drugging. Take that away and it has become no holds barred.
The Pandemic Can Intensify Our Addictions
A study in International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction focusing on the impact on mental health during COVID determined that among 2871 participants more than a quarter (26.4 percent) reported an increase in their consumption of alcohol. They found those individuals who increased their alcohol consumption during the lockdown were often working from home, more likely to have children, higher educated, and consumed alcohol more frequently and in higher quantities. Further, they say, these people also had a greater proximity to contamination and higher levels of anxiety and depression. 1
A study in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health also found that alcohol consumption increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study assessed whether drinking behaviors changed during the pandemic and how those changes were affected by COVID-19-related stress. 2
In a sample of U.S. adults over the age of 21 taken during the pandemic, more than a third of the 832 participants (34.1 percent) reported binge drinking and 7.0 percent reported extreme binge drinking. More than 60 percent of the participants reported consuming more drinks than usual over a greater number of days and cited as reasons increased stress (45.7 percent), increased alcohol availability (34.4 percent), and boredom (30.1 percent), raising concerns both from an individual and public health standpoint. 2
Calling it a pandemic within a pandemic, the Annals of Internal Medicine says the COVID-19 pandemic has been of particular risk to the millions of Americans with opioid use disorder who, already vulnerable and marginalized, are heavily dependent on in-person healthcare delivery. 3
The American Psychological Association also found both opioid and stimulant use to be on the rise during the pandemic. The uncertainty and stress of the pandemic, combined with disrupted routines, have encouraged some people to progress into heavier drug use and drinking habits, often undercutting their previous efforts to stay sober. 4
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 percent of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. 5
The Pandemic’s Effect on People with Depression
The University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry recognizes that people with addiction often contend with depression and anxiety. Further, they say, the constant barrage of stressful news during COVID-19 may lead to increased feelings of worry, anxiety, and stress. Although turning to alcohol and/or drugs may temporarily relieve these feelings, they cause changes in your brain that leave you feeling worse. 6
People with anxiety and depression are more likely to report an increase in drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic than those without these mental health issues, according to a study by researchers at New York University School of Global Public Health published in Science Daily. While drinking grew the most among younger people, older adults with anxiety and depression saw a sharper increase in their risk for harmful alcohol use. 7
Consistent with this, a study published by Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that of 5,850 survey respondents who said they drink alcohol, 29 percent reported increasing their alcohol use during the pandemic. This study also found that people with depression were more likely to increase their alcohol intake—by a whopping 64 percent—while those with anxiety were 41 percent more likely to do so. 8
The study further observed that drinking behaviors varied by age. In general, younger adults under the age of 40 were the most likely to report increased alcohol use (40 percent) during the pandemic, compared to those 40-59 years old (30 percent) and adults over 60 (20 percent). However, older adults (40 and older) with symptoms of anxiety and depression were roughly twice as likely to report increased drinking during the pandemic compared to older adults without these issues. 8
Social Isolation Makes Matters Worse
The effects of social isolation can have significant consequences on a person’s physical, emotional, and cognitive health. Social wellness is one of the eight dimensions of wellness outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 9 And for someone struggling with or recovering from active addiction, social isolation can lead to greater alcohol and drug abuse or even trigger a relapse. As pointed out earlier, emotionally and socially isolated individuals can struggle with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and stress.
For people who actively struggle with addiction, social isolation can lead us down a deeper path of unhealthy behaviors. We are social creatures and social interaction comforts us, encourages healthier lifestyles, and helps us cope with difficult experiences and feelings. Take that away and our substance use can grow.
Especially those of us who find our support and reassurance in the rooms of AA and NA, the absence of in-person AA and NA meetings has made a difficult situation ever more so. (Note: Having said this, the shift to and availability of online meetings during the pandemic has been a Godsend for people seeking meetings, requiring the hands and steely determination of many to make this happen. Great appreciation is owed to all involved.)
Both social interaction and drugs have the ability to stimulate a person’s dopamine response. Physical and emotional connectedness cause the brain to produce good feelings, and when that system isn’t engaged, a person may seek to self-medicate. For those struggling with addiction, under the wrong circumstances it can make for a harmful, even deadly, combination.
People using substances to cope with loneliness, depression, stress, and anxiety avoid dealing with the reality of their situation. Add a pandemic to someone who is teetering on alcoholism and/or drug addiction and it can easily become a problem quicker than it might have during ordinary times.
As we can begin to imagine what life will be like post-COVID-19, this passage from Just for Today is a helpful reminder, “From the isolation of our addiction, we find a fellowship of people with a common bond. Our faith, strength, and hope come from people sharing their recovery.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out
If you feel yourself wavering, get a sponsor (even during COVID) or call the one you have, call a close friend or sibling, or just reach out to someone who will listen and help.
You can also get confidential substance use treatment and information from SAMHSA at 1 (800) 662-HELP (4357).
CBD Can Possibly Help
Exact Nature is an ecommerce company that provides supplements for people in addiction recovery. Our products take premium CBD and surround it with a host of all-natural ingredients long used to help with curbing addictive cravings, tamping down depression and anxiety, and improving sleep.
Social interaction and drugs have the ability to stimulate a person’s dopamine response, but it’s also thought that the brain’s serotonin and dopamine receptors are stimulated by CBD and directly related to a reduction in drug-seeking behavior, making it less likely people will seek out addictive substances.
The number one reason people in the U.S. use CBD is to help with depression and anxiety. CBD may yet serve as a panacea for reducing the cravings and anxiety experienced by individuals suffering from addiction, but much more research needs to be done. CBD's potential capacity to regulate the body's dopamine receptors is the key to providing relief and the results to date have shown promise.
Schmits, E., Glowacz, F. Changes in Alcohol Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Impact of the Lockdown Conditions and Mental Health Factors, International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (2021); https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-020-00432-8
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adults, Elyse R. Grossman,1,2, Sara E. Benjamin-Neelon,1 and Susan Sonnenschein3; December 17, 2020; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7763183/
- An Epidemic in the Midst of a Pandemic: Opioid Use Disorder and COVID-19, Annals of Internal Medicine 2020 Apr 2: M20-1141; Caleb Alexander, MD, MS, Kenneth B. Stoller, MD, Rebecca L. Haffajee, JD, PhD, MPH, and Brendan Saloner, PhD
- Substance use during the pandemic, American Psychological Association, March 1, 2021 https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/03/substance-use-pandemic
- Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 14, 2020 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm
- University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, Addiction, Substance Use and Recovery During the COVID-19 Pandemic, https://medicine.umich.edu/dept/psychiatry/michigan-psychiatry-resources-covid-19/specific-mental-health-conditions/addiction-substance-use-recovery-during-covid-19-pandemic
- New York University, Drinking during COVID-19 up among people with anxiety and depression: Differences by age group point to need for tailored public health messaging and substance use support; Science Daily, 19 January 2021. sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210119113215.htm
- Drinking During COVID-19 Up Among People with Anxiety and Depression, New York University School of Global Public Health, Jan. 19, 2021; https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2021/january/alcohol-use-covid-19.html
- The Eight Dimensions of Wellness, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, gov