Addiction During COVID-19: Resources and How to Help

Supportive hand holding.
By Stephanie Stratigos, DO

In a regular year, millions of people become addicted to risky behavior including drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, food, digital devices, TV, and the list goes on. During the pandemic, the opportunity for people to become even more addicted to risky behaviors, including the use of alcohol and illegal substances, has grown. As people grow tired of the pandemic, addictive behaviors are on the rise everywhere.
Stephanie Stratigos, DO, director of Emerson’s Addictions Recovery Program, provides some important insight:

“What we see in the outpatient clinic is that — before the pandemic — a lot of people used to get up, go to work, and come home and start drinking at around 5 or 6 p.m. Often they exceeded the lower-risk or moderate drinking guidelines, which are no more than two drinks in a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women. Despite their heavy or binge drinking patterns, they were mostly drinking at home during evening hours, generally staying out of trouble, and able to get up the next morning and function at work.
Since COVID-19, many people have either lost their jobs or are now working from home and are no longer waiting until after work to start drinking. The quantity they are drinking has increased and is starting earlier in the day and for longer durations. When people come for help, they have usually suffered an accident, such as a fall for which they needed medical attention, and then they are referred to our clinic to help them cut down or quit drinking.
The holidays, which can be a time of heavy drinking for many people, could be different this year. Perhaps some people will drink more out of loneliness since their traditional plans to gather with loved ones may not be happening this year. Or, they may drink less because they are not going to parties with alcohol available. As clinicians, we anticipate people will experience either/or, or both throughout the long winter.”

Common Signs of Addiction

Here are some common behaviors displayed by people with substance use disorders. If you have concerns about a loved one based on their behavior that you may experience either virtually (for example, during family Zoom calls), or in-person, it is important you talk with your loved one and let them know that resources are available to help — read on to see some resources.

  • Secret keeping and lying
  • Financial unpredictability, stealing, having money at times, and at other times needing money
  • Unpredictable sleeping patterns, sleeping more or at varying times of day or night
  • Seeming unwell and run-down, having increased frequency of vague illness (colds, run-down, stomach complaints)
  • Mood swings, emotional unpredictability
  • Drinking alone or in secrecy
  • Justifying drinking, such as to relax, deal with stress or to feel better or normal
  • Drinking instead of fulfilling responsibilities and obligations
  • Becoming isolated or distant from friends and family members
  • Feeling hungover when not drinking
  • Changing appearance and group of acquaintances
  • Hidden alcohol bottles or drug paraphernalia
  • Tremulousness (hand shaking)
  • Not being able to cut down on substance use when they said they would or when it would be good for their health to cut down or stop the substance use

Note that most of these signs and symptoms can be generalized for other addictive disorders, though each substance does have specific signs/symptoms to look out for.

Addiction Resources

Here are resources if you suspect a loved one may be suffering from addictive behaviors and you are concerned about their wellbeing. Contact 911 if you suspect someone you love needs immediate medical help.

In closing, we recommend you trust your instincts — you know your loved ones well. One thing the pandemic has demonstrated is the importance of human connections. When we look out for each other and offer support and resources, we all become stronger and healthier — mentally and physically.

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