The coronavirus pandemic has led not only to a large-scale medical health crisis, but also to an increase in mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety.
At the same time, these two psychological issues have contributed to what, combined with the containment measures and the economic and social uncertainty experienced during the harshest moments of the pandemic, led to what might well be called a second pandemic: that of addictions. In this article we will see what caused the number of drug addiction cases to increase so much during the health crisis.
Emergence and consolidation of addictions during the coronavirus pandemic
The stress and uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has led to an increase in demand for mental health services.. Anxiety and depression are two psychological problems that have increased sharply since the onset of the health crisis in March 2020, but they are not the only problems that have increased the number of cases, and are in fact risk factors for various mental disorders, including drug addiction. .
Psychotherapists and other mental health professionals have seen how the use and abuse of substances, such as opioids and psychostimulants, has increased dramatically. Many people have fallen into addictions, consolidated in the pandemic due to a variety of factors including loneliness, boredom, stress and fear of being infected with the virus, conditions which, all combined, created the perfect storm because they do not only tell us about a viral pandemic, but also about addictions.
In addition to the health risks posed by substance use disorders alone, drug users have been shown to be more prone to develop the worst symptoms of the COVID-19 disease, have more after-effects once the disease is conquered and there is a significant increase in the chances of ending up hospitalized and dying from the coronavirus.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, as of June 2020, it was reported that about 13% of the country’s citizens have started and increased the use of addictive substances, both legal and illegal. The main explanation for this increase is that the population used drugs as a means of coping with the stress and negative emotions produced by the health crisis.
Although the population has started to take more drugs does not mean that all people have fallen into addictions, this phenomenon is very worrying because, as a result, also increased the cases of overdose, already slaughtered from the start of the drug. the pandemic. The ODMAP system, an app to monitor overdose cases in the United States, reported that during the first months of the pandemic there was an 18% increase in such cases compared to the same months in 2019.
The COVID Crisis and Substance Use Disorders
Based on research and clinical observations conducted during the pandemic, experts believe that one of the main causes of the increase in substance use is directly related to economic uncertainty, feelings of loneliness and fear caused by fear of contracting the disease.
All of them occurred in combination at the start of the pandemic, times when everyone felt more stressed and alone, which predisposed them to making unhealthy decisions, including drinking and taking drugs.
As people feel more stressed, they feel they have fewer effective ways to deal with this emotion., and even more if one takes into account the nature of the anti-COVID-19 measures of most governments around the world. For example, activities that could be considered to be conducive to resilience, such as exercising outside or going out with friends, were not possible due to the ban on any non-essential or duly justified activity. .
Faced with these bans, people who before the pandemic already had anxiety problems but who controlled them by playing sports, walking or meeting friends saw how overnight they had to succeed in learning a new method to manage your emotions. It is for this reason that many people have resorted to unhealthy strategies as their primary coping method, including overeating, abusive pornography and drug addiction, the stars being alcohol and tobacco.
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on drug use patterns
The increase in substance use has occurred both in terms of quantity and frequency and in some cases he switched to more dangerous drugs.
There are people who already abused substances before the pandemic who replaced them with new ones, easier to obtain from their homes but also less safe, because due to the restrictions and containment measures they did not have access to usual suppliers.
This switch to a new drug is considered one of the reasons why mortality associated with substance use has increased. during the pandemic. For example, a person who used heroin at the start of the pandemic and stopped taking heroin may have replaced it with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 100 times more powerful. Because they do not have as much experience with this drug as with cocaine, the user may underestimate its effects and cause an overdose with fatal effects.
There is also a practical explanation for the increase in overdose cases, and not just the increase in substance use. People are more likely to die from drug addiction during the pandemic because in many cases they were alone.. This means that there was no one to stop them or convince them to cut back on their use, and in addition, in the event of complications there was no one who could call for help or administer naloxone, an agent who reverses the effects of opiates.
The importance of good management in psychotherapy
The stressors that increased substance use are still in place, and even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it will take months or even years for many people to reduce their use of tobacco, alcohol, coffee, illicit drugs, or to stop overeating..
The stress and anxiety behind these addictive behaviors will not magically go away and there will always be a lot of uncertainty even in the absence of a health crisis, a concern which, if not properly addressed, can. manifested as a long-term drug overdose.
If a patient admits to having used a substance, directly or indirectly as a result of the pandemic, psychotherapy focuses on help the patient understand which stressors predisposed him to use substances. In addition, there are healthier and more suitable alternative means of coping with stress, both at the origin of a health crisis and a humanitarian disaster or daily problems in the patient’s life.
The patient is helped to perform a functional analysis of the role the drug plays in your life and thus look for something to replace it without presenting any health risks.
It should be noted that, as the pandemic has increased substance use, it should become a habit for professionals to ask the patient if he is taking any type of medication, no matter how uncomfortable the question may be, and know how much you are consuming, how much, and how often. Although this is part of the clinical maintenance phase, it is sometimes overlooked.
Additionally, assuming that a patient does not have a substance use disorder does not mean that they are not abusing drugs or smelling not that he lost control.
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