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addiction treatment during corona

How Getting Addiction Treatment Got Harder During Coronavirus

Table of Contents

When COVID-19 first affected the U.S. on a large scale in March 2020, most of us had no idea what the future would hold because of the public health emergency. 

  • Medical offices and primary care providers closed their doors for two weeks for nonessential medical treatment to slow the spread of this novel virus.
  • Unfortunately, those two weeks ended up lasting much longer in most places, as it proved incredibly challenging to control the spread of the coronavirus.
  • While these may have been necessary steps to save lives during the COVID-19 emergency, at the same time, many people suffered because of the indirect effects of lockdowns and shutdowns. 
  • Addiction treatment and access to behavioral therapies during corona are good examples. 
  • People weren’t able or maybe were unwilling to access treatment, recovery programs, or medical care because of the fear of contracting the virus.
  • According to organizations like the Mental Health Services Administration, the risk of relapse, addiction, and overdose rates soared.

The coming together of these factors has been devastating during difficult times. The biggest takeaway to remember is that help is always available. 

  • For example, even if there was a period of time where you couldn’t go to treatment, many rehab facilities offered telehealth visits.
  • Now, there is more widespread availability of addiction treatment with the availability of several COVID-19 vaccine options. 
  • We encourage you to reach out if you feel as if you would benefit from treatment or you have a loved one who would.

Below, we discuss more of the impacts on addiction treatment during the COVID-19 crisis and the potentially long-lasting ripple effects on mental health and substance use.


Substance Use During the Pandemic

It wasn’t long into the pandemic that we started getting reports about the rising rates of drug use—especially opioids and stimulants as well as alcohol. We’re just now understanding how pervasive that use became.

So many factors began in the pandemic and continue to fuel rising substance use rates. These include:

  • Ongoing stress and anxiety are related directly to the pandemic itself, such as the fear of getting sick or having a loved one become seriously ill.
  • The pandemic and resulting lockdowns led to financial stress for many people, including business owners and those who lost their jobs as a result.
  • Many people experienced loneliness and isolation during the pandemic– among the most significant risk factors for substance use and addiction.
  • When you experience increasing stress, you may not have the coping mechanisms to deal with it, leading you to turn to drugs or alcohol.
  • During lockdowns and due to social distancing, people weren’t as connected to the things that might have grounded them otherwise and been protective for their mental health, such as their job, the gym, or leisure activities, counseling sessions, and self-help groups. 
  • Since people couldn’t see many of their health care providers in person, there could have been laxer prescribing on drugs with a potential for abuse through telehealth visits. There could have been potentially less oversight because regulatory frameworks weren’t yet in place. 


Overdose Deaths Hit Record During the Coronavirus Outbreak

In 2020, the U.S. government says there were a record 93,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. 

  • The number is far beyond the 72,000 overdose deaths from the year before, representing a 29% increase.
  • The United States was already grappling with an overdose epidemic, and COVID made the crisis much worse.
  • Many of the people who died from an overdose in 2020 weren’t new drug users. Instead, they’d had longer-term struggles with addiction, and the pandemic led these patients with substance disorders to relapse. 
  • Without proper care and management of chronic disease, the risk of relapse becomes high. 
  • Things like extended unemployment benefits that would have otherwise helped financially float some people went to pay for drugs during the crisis.
  • There was also isolation, as mentioned. People were alone at home, so if they did overdose or there were red flags, there might not have been people around to identify this and provide help as there would have been ordinarily.
  • The 93,000 overdose deaths mean, on average more than 250 deaths every day in the U.S. last year.
  • Another issue was the increasing flood of fentanyl into drug markets, which is highly potent and deadly. Fentanyl is often in other drugs without users knowing.

addiction treatment during corona

Mental Health During COVID-19

It isn’t just substance abuse that went up during the pandemic. Instances of mental health disorders appear to have followed the same course.

For example, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms. This is up from one in 10 adults who reported these symptoms in 2019. Many people say they experienced specific symptoms include problems sleeping or eating and worsening chronic conditions.

Young people have taken on many of the burdens of the consequences of the pandemic, including the closing of schools and universities and loss of income. Young adults are more likely to report substance use and suicidal thoughts compared to all adults. Before the pandemic, young adults were especially at risk of substance use disorders and poor mental health, even though most weren’t receiving treatment.


Changes in Addiction Treatment

Fewer people were going to inpatient rehab for drug addiction or outpatient rehab during the early weeks and months of COVID-19. 

  • Researchers looked at the trends in California to get more of an understanding. 
  • They found during the COVID-19 period; monthly residential treatment admissions were on average 28.3% lower than pre-COVID numbers for inpatient care. 
  • The biggest declines were in people without Medicaid coverage, those younger than 25, and unemployed people.
  • Even when treatment programs centers were open and available, individuals may have been afraid to seek addiction treatment because they didn’t want to be infected. 
  • During the pandemic, courts limited their operations, which meant fewer court-mandated treatment admissions for inpatient care and evidence-based treatment. 
  • In separate research, 34% of respondents said they’d experienced disruption in accessing either treatment or recovery support since the pandemic began. 
  • Fourteen percent said they couldn’t get the needed services whether this was at a rehab facility or groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. 
  • People who lost jobs due to the COVID-10 crisis might have also lost their private health insurance, affecting access to care for behavioral health. 


Were There Any Positives for Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

A few things have come out of the pandemic that is positive for drug and alcohol treatment.

  • First, new policy changes help streamline telehealth medical services and make them more accessible and affordable as part of the recovery process. 
  • There’s also growing access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid addictions. For example, if you have an opioid use disorder, you can now start buprenorphine without an in-person doctor visit initially.
  • Support groups like Alcoholic Anonymous began moving meetings online, breaking down the barriers to attending a 12-step program for many people.
  • Online recovery support groups may not be ideal and as effective as in-person meetings, but they can be a helpful tool within a spectrum of resources in a treatment plan. 
  • There are more options for individual counseling available online and through telemedicine. 

Substance abuse treatment centers are working on how we think about our community and approach access to treatment in general. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that uncertainty can upend life as we know it, and we want to be prepared to continue caring for our patients regardless of that to promote long-term recovery. 


Getting Help

It’s difficult to overstate the effects of the pandemic on our mental well-being. However, if you feel like your use of drugs or alcohol is problematic, we want you to know that The Right Time Recovery team is here and can provide treatment and care in a safe environment. Please call 800-630-1218 to learn more about our recovery services and treatment process.