The United States has been fighting an opioid epidemic since the late 1990s. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, much progress has backtracked. Not only has the current public health crisis triggered new dependence issues for some, but it has also exacerbated existing addictions and disrupted treatment for those already seeking help.
How the Pandemic Contributed to the Opioid Epidemic
1. Increased stress
One main reason the pandemic has contributed to the opioid epidemic has to do with stress. As with any public health crisis, the pandemic has resulted in additional pressure for many people. Job loss, grieving the loss of a loved one, social isolation, and financial challenges can increase stress and anxiety. Because of this, people are increasingly using substances to cope. Dependence issues are also worsening, and people are at a higher risk of overdosing.
Early in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease and Prevention data showed that about 13.3% of people started or increased their substance use to cope with the stress related to COVID-19.
2. Disruption to treatment
Closure of clinics and treatment centers– The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted treatment for many who were already seeking or receiving care for their substance abuse problem. Many treatment centers closed their doors at the beginning of the pandemic. By shutting down, they left those who needed care without anywhere to get help.
Fear of being exposed to COVID-19– Although some treatment centers were left open, some people were hesitant about going. They were afraid of contracting COVID-19 or spreading it to their loved ones.
Loss of insurance– Many people lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning a loss in insurance. Enrolling in government-supported programs, like Medicaid, might require time. Because of this, many people could no longer afford their treatment plans or had to temporarily put their treatment on hold, causing them to relapse.
3. Limited peer support
Peer support is a critical component of recovery. During the pandemic, substance abusers had limited access to group meetings. With social distancing and lockdowns, it was difficult for those with an opioid dependency to seek help from their peers. These factors left them feeling lonely and isolated, contributing to their substance use disorder.
4. Lack of structure
Having a routine is essential during the recovery process, especially for those who are early in their treatment. During the pandemic, many people struggled to create structure in their day. Some people had to learn how to work from home, while others lost their jobs. While unemployment alone can make it challenging to find and stick to a routine, other businesses’ closures intensified the problem. They could no longer start their mornings at the gym, grab a coffee with a friend during lunch, or go out to dinner with their family.
5. Loss of purpose
Feeling like you have a sense of purpose is an often forgotten aspect of mental health. Therefore, recovering addicts are advised to integrate themselves into society. The pandemic made it difficult for them to do so.
6. Increased mental health challenges
In addition to increased job loss and disruption in routine, people also experience a decline in their mental health. Anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness are common during a public health crisis. Some people are grieving the loss of a loved one. Each of these circumstances can increase psychological stress, which can lead to substance abuse.
The Pandemic Has Affected Many
The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for many. It has caused financial challenges, anxiety, and isolation. It has even caused grief for those who have lost a loved one to the disease. These factors can be difficult for anyone, but they can be particularly challenging for those with substance use disorder or those at risk for developing one.