The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly challenging for people all over the world. With so many parts of their lives essentially shut down, people were left to fight their mental health and addiction struggles on their own. Drug and alcohol treatment was either unavailable or only accessible online. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups were no longer meeting in person. Addiction is challenging enough on its own. Dealing with the COVID pandemic has been incredibly difficult. Having to handle both of these crises at the same time has been overwhelming for so many people.

The Challenges of Staying Drug Free-During COVID

Staying away from drugs can be hard enough for an addict, even in the best of times. The onset of COVID made this so much more difficult for many reasons. So what were the challenges that prevented people from staying drug-free sober?

  • Isolation

Many people were totally isolated, sometimes being at home alone for months without meaningful interactions with other people. Spending this much time alone is difficult and can trigger the use of drugs in order to help deal with loneliness and isolation. 

  • Stress & Loss

To say that people have been stressed since the pandemic began would be quite an understatement. Many people lost their jobs, couldn’t afford to pay rent, and some weren’t even able to put food on the table. Others lost friends and loved ones due to COVID-19. Not only did they suffer a significant loss, but it’s also likely that they weren’t able to have or attend a funeral or even grieve the way that they would have wanted to.

  • Boredom

Many people were home for months at a time, possibly not even going outside for any reason except to buy groceries. Others with underlying health conditions may not have even left the house out of the fear of becoming sick. This means that some people were home alone for literally months at a time, without much to do to entertain themselves. This boredom and lack of useful things to do likely led to increased drug use for many people.

In Some Parts of New England, There Was an Increase in Fatal Overdoses 

Many people use drugs, and overdoses happen often, but there was an increase in overdoses in Massachusetts amidst the pandemic. A report from the state Department of Public Health cited a 2% increase in overdose deaths for the first nine months of 2020 as compared to 2019. This translates to 33 more deaths. 

In 2020, there was also a record high number of fatal drug overdoses in the state of Maine. The previous record in Maine was 503. In 2020, there were more than 655 fatal overdoses.

Many people were using drugs in significantly more isolated settings, meaning no one was there to call for help if they overdosed. Additionally, treatment was not very accessible during COVID. Some people might have been too afraid of getting sick to participate in any kind of in-person treatment. While the Coronavirus is still very much at the forefront of all of our lives, it seems like things might start to get back to ‘normal’ sometime soon. With society beginning to open back up in the United States, treatment will hopefully be more accessible for people struggling with their drug abuse.

Fatal Overdoses Decreased in New Hampshire  

In contrast, New Hampshire actually saw a decrease in deaths due to drug overdoses. In December of 2019, there were 50 fatal cases recorded. In December of 2020, there were 30 deaths. In the early days of the pandemic, New Hampshire passed legislation that allowed providers to offer treatment over video conference or phone call before any of its neighboring states. This may have played a part in the reduction of fatal overdoses in the state.

Human Connection

Human connection is so important in recovery, especially in the beginning. Being stuck inside your home and unable to connect with other people who understand the struggle of addiction likely made staying drug-free very difficult for many people. The pandemic has been quite scary and lonely. If you know someone who is in recovery or struggling with drug addiction, reach out to them. Check in on them more often than you normally would and make sure they’re okay. Find out if there’s anything you can do to support them, especially in ways that might not involve seeing them in person. This may seem small, but letting someone know that they are loved and supported can make all the difference in the world.

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