How COVID-19 Has Increased Addiction
In March 2020, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 was a pandemic. This had serious implications for people’s mental health, but it also complicated matters for people experiencing substance use disorders (SUDs). In order to recover from such disorders, people must meet regularly in support groups. When the pandemic took hold, they were discouraged from getting together in large groups to continue their treatment. The pandemic has also been hard on those in the medical community and those in stressful situations, so the population may be experiencing substance use disorders in greater numbers now.
The Link Between SUDs and Mental Health Disorders Due to COVID-19
In June 2020, the CDC reported that 13% of the U.S. population began to use substances or increased their intake because of the stress they were experiencing during the pandemic. Many of these people were self-medicating rather than obtaining treatment from professionals.
The beginning of the pandemic also saw an increase in the number of overdoses in the country. According to the reporting system ODMAP, the first few months of the pandemic saw more overdoses than were reported at the same time in 2019. Also, the American Medical Association stated that 40 U.S. states recorded an increased number of fatalities related to opioids.
The possibility that those addicted to substances may also be experiencing a mental health disorder is something that must be examined. However, you or your loved one may not have visited a physician recently because of the pandemic. This is a concern because substance use disorders and mental health disorders often coexist, and when you aren’t in regular contact with your physician, you don’t have anyone to turn to when you start experiencing mental health issues.
It is common for people to experience the symptoms of a mental health disorder and then start to take substances as a way to relieve their symptoms when visiting a doctor isn’t easy. Even so, the medical community cannot definitively state whether the mental health disorder or the substance use disorder occurred first.
You or your loved one may be experiencing co-occurring disorders for any of these three reasons:
• SUDs and mental health disorders have several risk factors in common.
• A mental illness is often the reason that people begin to ingest substances and develop SUDs.
• The use of substances may be the reason that the mental health disorder develops.
The medical community discovered that a large number of people diagnosed with substance use disorders also have mental health disorders. Similarly, those diagnosed with mental health disorders are also diagnosed with substance use disorders in significant numbers. Many people diagnosed with substance use disorders also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. It is also common for those experiencing a substance use disorder to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder or depression.
Why Are People Having a Hard Time During the Pandemic?
The pandemic is leading many people to live through difficult times because COVID is causing them to experience a tremendous amount of stress. As a result, more people are seeking help from psychologists and other therapists. However, many people are medicating themselves with opioids and stimulants instead.
Healthcare Professionals and First Responders Struggle During the Pandemic
Many healthcare professionals and first responders are living with stress during the COVID pandemic because of the strong emotions they experience, such as fear and anxiety. These people witness many unpleasant scenes throughout the day, and everyone reacts differently. Some people can manage the stress they experience, but others have much more significant and emotional reactions to stress. These include developing PTSD and secondary traumatic stress. Many people also experience burnout or compassion fatigue while in their duties as emergency professionals.
Isolation During the Pandemic
The need to isolate during the pandemic has been particularly detrimental to people with substance use disorders. When people addicted to substances feel lonely, they are more likely to turn to their drugs of choice. When you are isolated, you begin to experience anxiety, low self-esteem and depression, and you are more likely to be willing to engage in high-risk behaviors to relieve these negative feelings.
The Role of Stress
Stress is a major contributor to developing mental health disorders. Therefore, stress is considered a neurobiological link between mental health disorders and substance use disorders. Stress is another major reason that people in recovery are susceptible to relapsing. Researchers found that changes in the brain that result from a substance use disorder cause you to lose control over yourself and become more impulsive. Many people in the helping professions have been experiencing an inordinate amount of stress, so this may be the reason that they are developing mental health disorders and substance use disorders.
Stress contributes to developing substance use disorders in another way as well. Changes in the brain related to stress may cause the brain to increase its amount of dopamine. This neurotransmitter is responsible for encouraging people to take their drugs of choice, but many other neurotransmitters are also involved in the brain’s responses to stress. Researchers believe that these brain changes due to stress are the reason that people relapse while they are in recovery.
The Need for Group Therapy
Group therapy is essential for treating substance use disorders, but throughout the pandemic, people have been discouraged from meeting in groups, especially indoors. This has been particularly devastating for those in recovery who missed out on the benefits of group therapy, which include reducing isolation. Not being able to join others in substance use treatment in person prevents you from witnessing the successes that other people experienced. This is exactly what helps you move into the recovery phase.
Group therapy is excellent for the treatment of other issues you may be dealing with. For example, because of your substance use and the pandemic, you are feeling isolated and depressed. You may even feel ashamed of your substance use issues or, if you’re in recovery, a recent relapse. If you are able to meet with others experiencing the same issues, it will help you work through those difficult times and prevent a relapse from turning into an overdose or extended use period.
Research has shown that group therapy is likely to help those with substance use disorders remain sober while continuing treatment. This is because group therapy serves a unique purpose of supplying camaraderie, identification, support and confrontation when you need it. If you engage in group therapy often, will be in the best position to remain sober over the long term, researchers learned. Substance use leads to depression, personality disorders, shame, denial, anxiety and other problems. Disorders such as these are likely to respond to group therapy better than individual therapy.
Basically, people diagnosed with substance use disorders need group therapy because human beings are social creatures. When you are free to meet with other people, it is likely that you will become stabilized in your substance use disorder because you will benefit from the persuasion that the other members of the group can offer you. In a group, you learn from the other members, and you have guidance from peers dealing with the same issues you are experiencing. This is especially important when you are in the middle of a crisis.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment at First City Recovery Center
At First City Recovery Center, you or your loved one can receive treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders and substance use disorders. It is important to know if your loved one has a mental health disorder before treatment for the SUD begins, so your loved one will have the best chance of recovery.
After receiving a diagnosis at First City Recovery Center, you or your loved one must stop using the substance of choice. Because addiction to a substance leads to withdrawal symptoms when the user tries to stop using, it is necessary to undergo a medical detox program.
During the medical detox program, the client will receive medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms to a tolerable level. This process will also help eliminate the cravings for the substances. This must be the first step in the process. If we do not address the physical dependence on substances, the likelihood of conquering the addiction will be extremely low.
After we address a client’s physical addiction, we can address their psychological addiction. Group therapy is essential to overcoming an addiction and is a building block of our program. This will be one form of therapy that you or your loved one will definitely experience at our facility.
Individual therapy is also a necessary part of the recovery program. This is so that the therapist and client can work on the problems and issues that the latter is facing. There will be times when clients may feel uncomfortable bringing up an event or issue with the other group members as witnesses, so individual therapy gives everyone in treatment the opportunity to address sensitive issues without feeling embarrassed. Other forms of therapy that are available include art therapy, music therapy and equine-assisted therapy.
After the initial stages, continuing treatment, including participating in a support group has the purpose of helping you or your loved one become connected to a group that can travel further along the road to recovery.
Programs Offered at First City Recovery Center
During the initial consultation, our staff will determine the best type of treatment for you or your loved one. This may be the partial hospitalization program, which is an option to consider if 24-hour care is not determined to be necessary. It is a program that can treat mental health disorders as well as substance use disorders. If you or your loved one needs to continue treatment after a stay in a residential program, the intensive outpatient program may be an option. Clients who choose this path are able to return to work or school while enrolled in this program, returning to the center in their off hours when necessary.
The outpatient treatment program is less intensive than the two mentioned above. The main focus in this program is education as well as counseling. It is where you or your loved one can begin to enter into a network of recovery, but you will have the option of choosing the level of intensity. If you are searching for caring and effective treatment, contact us today at First City Recovery Center.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.