The coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of Americans who have suffered hardships over the past several months. Some have lost their jobs and others are working from home while balancing their children’s virtual education. As the quarantine has progressed, many are missing the normalcy of social gatherings and other activities outside the home.
September is National Recovery Month , which aims to educate Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with mental and substance use disorders to live healthy and rewarding lives.
Mental health experts have been warning about the psychological effect the pandemic may have on many Americans. The economic stress, coupled with the anxiety and depression brought on by being home alone, could have a lasting impact. Some healthcare professionals are worried these factors may also contribute to an increase in addiction to alcohol and other substances. A recent study is pointing to exactly that.
The Recovery Village® recently conducted a survey  on past-month drug and alcohol use to better understand how the pandemic is currently affecting substance use in the United States.
Results of The Recovery Village® Survey
The survey asked 1,000 American adults (ages 18 and older) about their use of drugs and alcohol in the past month. Some questions asked respondents to select each option that applied, so in a few instances, the total percentage will be greater than one hundred.
The survey respondents most commonly used:
- Alcohol (88%)
- Marijuana (37%)
- Prescription opioids (15%)
- Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax (11%)
- Prescription stimulants, such as Adderall (10%)
- Cocaine (9%)
Additionally, many respondents displayed higher rates of drug and alcohol use. Of the respondents:
- 55% reported an increase in past-month alcohol consumption, with 18% reporting a significant increase
- 36% reported an increase in illicit drug use
In the states hardest hit by the coronavirus (NY, NJ, MA, RI, CT), 67% reported an increase in past-month alcohol consumption, with 25% reporting a significant increase
The participants were asked why they were prompted to use substances within the last month. Of the respondents:
- 53% were trying to cope with stress
- 39% were trying to relieve boredom
- 32% were trying to cope with mental health symptoms, such as anxiety or depression
Survey Courtesy: The Recovery Village®
What the Results Mean
“Our numbers are increasing–new patients with issues with alcohol use and established patients with a resurgence of their alcohol use,” says Rachel V.F. Rohaidy, M.D. , a Baptist Health psychiatrist and medical director at Recovery Village Miami at Baptist Health , who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental, addictive and emotional disorders. She added, “I think that technology has played a part in the ease of accessing alcohol as we are now able to have things delivered to us and packaged for us for pickup.”
The results of the survey are concerning. Once people turn to drugs and alcohol, there is concern that it can turn into a substance use disorder, which can sometimes come with co-occurring mental health disorders.
Dr. Rohaidy offers these tips to help reduce the stress brought on by the pandemic:
- Setting limits would be at the top of my list. For example, setting strict time constraints for work or school, and not allowing those activities to blend into family time.
- Limiting exposure to social media and news reporting. If you must watch the news, then set a specific time and only a specific channel. Don’t inundate yourself as it will only add to the stress.
- With the help of free and accessible online webinars — such as ones from events.baptisthealth.net  — it is now easy to incorporate exercise, meditation and healthy living into our daily lives.
- 30 minutes a day of walking to get the heart rate up slightly is all we need, three to four times a week.
- Staying hydrated can help with appetite and snacking, remembering to maintain healthy family goals.
- Set dinner time every night for the family. Include rules such as no devices or reading materials at the dinner table. Talk about what is worrying everyone. Including children is an important part as they too are likely feeling stressed.
- Start a new hobby or revive an old one. This is a great time for creativity. This will help with stress relief and positive thinking. Having a hobby can help you to feel part of a social group and will help you to feel much less isolated. Knitting, crochet, painting, ceramics, maybe a DIY home renovation project.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health concerns, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health can help. The first step is to contact  a compassionate intake coordinator, many of whom are in recovery themselves, to learn more about addiction, treatment options and the recovery process.