Mar 15, 2021

Substance Abuse in the Time of COVID

The pandemic is stressful. Or, let’s be frank – it really sucks. People are working from home, not seeing friends and family and have been cut off from most/all engaging activities. Many have turned to substances to curb negative feelings or escape boredom. While isolation can be challenging, quarantine can actually provide an opportunity to spot and address any problem behaviors, especially if you’re already concerned.

What are some signals that using substances to cope has gone too far? Here are some warning signs to watch out for, whether it be for yourself or a loved one:

  • Using more substances to achieve the same effect as one would normally need
  • Becoming either lethargic/sad or overly energetic; excess or no talking when using/drinking
  • Using substances to replace the company of friends/family
  • Losing interest in activities/hobbies one enjoyed before the pandemic
  • Sleeping at irregular hours or developing odd sleep patterns due to substance intake
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which can be as subtle as heightened anxiety. Other signs include sweating, shaking, slurring ones’ words, etc

You might think, I see those warning signs in myself or a loved one but, what is there to do about it? Here are some pandemic friendly resources you can access:

  • Online AA Meetings (and the like…NA, GA, MA ,etc) all offer virtual gathering options. Just like in-person meetings, but without the crappy coffee and no responsibility to put away your chair.
  • Remember what phones are? Yeah, pick it up and call your friends or family. Talk to people you trust and are able to listen to without bias, but at the same time, you’re able to hear constructive criticism from.. Text can be a nice supplement to the phone but, nothing replaces hearing the sound and infliction of one’s voice.
  • GO OUTSIDE! Sure, being around people might not be a great option but, activities exist outside the home that mostly avoid people all together. Get some fresh air by taking a walk, going on a bike ride, going on a hike – these can all help to reduce stress. Your dog can’t get Covid – take your dog on a walk!
  • “Yeah, I’d love to do that one day, but I don’t have time.” Well, now you do have time to try those hobbies or activities you’ve always wanted to. No excuses!
  • Watch your food intake, whether that be too much or two little. Everyone has his/her own unique relationship to food. Watch to see if that way food is consumed in yourself or somebody else has drastically changed. Significant change of any kind, while sometimes for the best, should also be examined as to why such a change has taken place.

Staying inside and isolated from the world around you might feel safe, but it can be dangerous in various other ways, some of which are listed above. Be honest with yourself and be honest with those closest to you. Luckily, technology allows us to connect in ways that were not possible only a few years ago. Therapists like myself have had to transition to a hybrid online/in-person practice. While this has been challenging to get used to, for both myself and clients, it provides significant benefits such as not having to battle LA traffic to arrive late for your 50 minute therapy appointment or, arriving so stressed from sitting in traffic that it’s hard to settle and begin session, whenever you do happen to arrive. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist or counselor, as having an unbiased viewpoint, having somebody caring about your well being, can serve a unique and valuable purpose during this time. That being said, try to avoid, “If it gets that bad, then I’ll consider therapy.” You have the opportunity to address any issues before it has to get worse. Addressing any problem is easier to do the sooner you decide to face it.