Social Isolation and Substance Abuse Issues: A Dangerous Combo

Last Updated: Aug 21st 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Social Isolation and Substance Abuse Issues: A Dangerous Combo

Social isolation is difficult for most of us, but those dealing with isolation and substance abuse issues can find it especially challenging.

During times of national crisis — like the Covid-19 pandemic — state or local officials may take steps to slow the spread of disease or “flatten the curve” so that medical facilities aren’t overwhelmed. They may request (or require) that businesses and schools close, and that people avoid crowds and limit travel away from home. Social isolation may continue for weeks or even months.

It’s Normal to Worry

It’s understandable to be concerned about how a crisis may affect you and the people you love. You may worry about finances, like how you’ll pay the rent and buy food or medicine. 

You may feel frustrated, bored, angry, anxious, or depressed. If you have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), you may experience mood changes or an increase in disturbing memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. You may have trouble sleeping, or you may sleep too much. The prospect of battling addiction alone, with limited access to support systems, only contributes to these feelings of stress.

Social Isolation and Substance Abuse Issues

We all have different ways of dealing with stress, and it may be tempting to fall back into old habits. Relapsing, and turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with isolation, worry, and fear may be what you’re used to. However, when we’re threatened by Covid-19 or other infections, we must stay as healthy as possible. Substance abuse weakens the immune system and even more so during full-blown addiction. If you become ill, your body will have a harder time fighting off the infection.

Using alcohol to cope with stress weakens the immune system and increases the risk of illness. However, according to the American Heart Association, alcohol sales in stores and online have risen substantially since the beginning of the pandemic. When 2,200 adults were queried about their drinking habits, 16 percent indicated they were drinking more they did before Covid-19. 

Methamphetamine narrows the blood vessels, which can damage the heart and lungs. NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), isn’t sure how meth compromises the immune system, but a person with respiratory difficulties may have a harder time healing from infections. 

Cocaine is a nervous system stimulant that can cause constriction in the veins and arteries. Smoking or snorting cocaine may lead to severe lung damage and increase the risk of Covid-19, or worsen illnesses such as emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma. 

Opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers, can slow breathing to dangerous levels, thus increasing the chance of a fatal overdose. Naloxone can halt an overdose when administered quickly, but when a person is alone, there is nobody present to provide the life-saving medication. 

Smoking or vaping marijuana or tobacco damages the white blood cells and causes inflammation of the lungs, which increases your vulnerability to infections, including Covid-19. Massachusetts General Hospital also reports that people who smoke or vape are more likely to spread the virus by coughing, even if they show no symptoms.

Dealing With Addiction Alone: Practicing Self-Support

There’s no doubt that the risk of substance abuse and addiction increases after exposure to stress. For example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that substance use disorders rose significantly after Hurricane Katrina, along with dramatic increases in hospitalization for substance abuse.

It’s good to stay up to date on current events, but take a break if you find that the news increases your anxiety. Try watching for only a few minutes every day. Turn the news off at bedtime if it keeps you awake. Be careful about conspiracy theories and bogus news sources.

Don’t hesitate to ask your local health experts or medical providers for information. Keeping the public informed is part of their job.

Mindfulness meditation or prayer may help with fear and stress. Try keeping a gratitude journal; start your day by writing down at least three things that made you smile.

It may seem like life has turned upside down, but do your best to stick to a regular daily routine, which will help you feel more in control. Get enough rest. Eat healthy food and avoid too much fatty or carb-laden comfort food. 

Try to get fresh air every day. Breath deeply. If you’re able, go for a socially distanced walk through your neighborhood. Make time for fun. Stay positive by enjoying humorous or inspirational movies and books.

Fighting Addiction Alone: Reach Out to Others

Staying in contact with other people will limit your feelings of isolation, and by reaching out, you’ll help others who are probably struggling with similar worries. Call your friends and family, or send them an email or a text message. Gather together on Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype. 

Don’t limit yourself to family and close friends. Call an elderly neighbor or relative and offer to help by picking up their medicine or groceries, but always protect yourself by social distancing, hand-washing, and other recommended methods.

Battling Addiction Alone May be Dangerous: What to do When you Feel Overwhelmed

If you’re using drugs or alcohol to cope and you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of control, seek treatment or rehab as soon as possible. If you’re unable to enter treatment right away, ask your medical provider if she can recommend a treatment provider with telehealth options. Consider online support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, or Smart Recovery.

If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or PTSD and your symptoms are difficult to manage, contact your doctor or counselor immediately. Let a family member know that you need support. If you’re in crisis, or if you’re thinking about harming yourself, call emergency services. 

If you’re taking meds for depression or anxiety, don’t stop. Your doctor may be able to increase the dosage or prescribe additional meds. If you’re unable to get to your local pharmacy, call and inquire about delivery options.

Similarly, if you’re concerned about yourself or a family member’s physical health, most physicians offer online appointments.  

Don’t Deal with Addiction Alone: Take the 1st Step

Life is stressful right now, but you don’t need to cope with depression, anxiety by yourself, or deal with addiction alone. We’re here for you, and we’re ready to help. Just give us a call today at 855-425-4846 or contact us here for more information.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.