Why Addiction Increases the Risks of COVID-19 (and Vice Versa)


In a particularly interesting Harvard Health blog, Dr. Peter Grinspoon uses his experience treating, and recovering from, opiate addiction to shine a light on COVID-19 and substance use disorders.

Dangerous Conditions

Dr. Grinspoon explains that those who suffer from an addiction of any kind are more susceptible to both contracting COVID-19 and suffering from complications of the disease. Many people who struggle with addiction are more likely to live, work, and play in conditions that put them at risk, due to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refer to as social determinants of health.

In short,” Grinspoon summarizes, “people suffering from addiction are vastly more vulnerable to coronavirus, as they are more likely to be homeless, poor, smokers with lung or cardiovascular disease, under- or uninsured, or have experienced serious health and socioeconomic issues from drug addiction.”

Interrupted Care

Further, many of the resources available for those with substance use disorders have been disrupted. Telehealth is a great option for some, but others may need medication-assisted recovery and in-person support to get through withdrawal symptoms and reach sobriety. Those in recovery are also barred from attending in-person peer support groups and may feel the effects of isolation more sharply than other members of the population.

Relapse and Overdose

Many of the feelings associated with the COVID-19 pandemic can make people more likely to reach for a drink or dose, as well. As Dr. Grinspoon states:

Heightened anxiety is a near-universal trigger for drug use, and it is difficult to think of a more stressful event — for all of us — than this pandemic.”

Sadly, increased emotional pressure may lead many people in recovery to relapse; coronavirus is already causing a rise in drug and alcohol relapses. Similarly, those who were previously drinking or doing drugs with friends are now drinking and using alone, which means there is nobody to call 911 or administer aid if something goes wrong. As a result, “police have been finding people dead in their apartments.”

Even when first responders are summoned, response times and access to care may not be suitable due to COVID-19’s effect on the healthcare and emergency response systems. The care one receives in the ER after an overdose can be crucial to preventing relapse in the future, and it simply isn’t the same during this public health crisis.

With increased fear also comes increased stigma and discrimination. Some officers are refusing to intervene in overdose situations because they are afraid “addicts” could spread the virus.

Hope Begins Here

Amid all the despair of Dr. Grinspoon’s insight, there is hope. The author points out that, moving forward, the COVID-19 pandemic might help us address the “social determinants of health” that influence all diseases, including the widespread epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction.

Additionally, some rehab facilities are still opening their doors to those battling addiction. Decision Point Center is one such facility, and our team would be happy to speak to you about admissions and give you more information about our holistic programs.

If you or someone you love needs help, please call us today at (844) 292-5010 or click here to contact us online.

*For information about COVID-19, please consult the CDC or the World Health Organization (WHO).

**If you are experiencing an emergency, please dial 911. The SAMHSA National Helpline is also available at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Be safe, be well, and call us if you need help.

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