The impact of Covid-19 on Addiction

“Covid-19 is an invisible disease that no one is immune to.” … “Left untreated, Covid-19 has the capacity to destroy the health and well-being of the carrier.” …“Covid-19 impacts all members of society, not simply the carrier.” … “Covid-19’s presence has an enormously painful and limiting impact on our lifestyles, our relationships, our careers, and most of our healthy endeavors.”

All of the statements above are also true of the disease of addiction.

There are a plethora of other similarities. A person can carry Covid-19 for a time without symptoms or detection. The disease of addiction is generally so well hidden as to be unobservable. Despite its insidious progression, the carrier will often deny its symptoms. Both diseases prey upon the young, the old, and the compromised.

Covid-19 is a pandemic that’s occurring in the midst of multiple epidemics including opioid addiction and alcoholism.

The biggest difference between a pandemic and an epidemic is that the former is contagious and the latter is not. The biggest similarity is that we knowingly place certain members of our culture at risk of developing both. Medical personnel, military, first-responders, and other essential professionals are placed in the path of Covid-19 and countless other potentially traumatic experiences. As these professionals are not adequately supported in processing and coping with trauma, we find that a significant percentage rely on substances to cope. Too often, this leads to addiction.

Facing Covid-19 gets you declared a hero and developing an addiction gets you vilified.

Our societal response to the pandemic is concern and seeking a balance between safety and connection. Our societal response to epidemics is largely indifference. If addiction was something that could be caught, we’d be throwing every resource we had at it.

The disease of addiction will exploit any vulnerability or loss. This includes our current pandemic. The pandemic is filled with uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. We were already a culture that uses substances to cope. That tendency is trending upward.

Disturbingly enough, alcohol sales have sharply increased since the pandemic. Day drinking is so common we make memes about it. We drink out of boredom and in place of socializing.

Addiction is a brain disease. It’s quite commonly a product of being genetically predisposed, socially conditioned, family sanctioned and often results from experiencing other illnesses.

Covid-19 has dramatically changed the landscape of professional addiction treatment, paraprofessional roles like recovery coaching, and the peer support of 12-step programs. Addiction flourishes in isolation. While quarantines are designed to reduce transmission, they come at the cost of increased susceptibility to relapse and potentially losing the remission provided by addiction recovery.

The pandemic taxes every medical facility. It causes a reduction of harm-reduction measures. It prevents most face to face contact for those in need of treatment. It reduces availability and access of detox and rehab beds.

What we’re left with are relatively sterile approaches to intimate problems that are growing in size and severity. Addiction is always a matter of life and death. It’s shocking to many how poorly equipped our systems are for managing a pandemic. By contrast, the resources available for those seeking freedom from addiction have always been disturbingly insufficient systemically.

Addiction is unique from all other health problems in that it remains highly stigmatized, underfunded, and under-resourced. The need for addiction recovery allies, advocacy, and investment at the grassroots level is more vital than ever.

No one should face a life-threatening disease without enormous support medically and systemically.