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Mental Health

Challenges Faced By Those In Treatment And Recovery From Substance Abuse

Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, America was already facing another epidemic – substance abuse and, more specifically, the opioid crisis that seriously impacted the entire nation. Covid-19 has aggravated this crisis, and unique challenges have arisen for those in treatment or recovery from addiction.

Some of the unique challenges faced by people with substance abuse disorder (SUD) include:

1. The Impact Of Covid-19 On Mental Health

Mental health plays a critical role in the recovery from substance abuse disorder. Covid-19 and the related consequences of the pandemic (such as isolation) have significantly increased the risk of experiencing mental health problems for the population in general and, more specifically, groups at risk such as SUD and mental health patients.

Although there are currently no statistics available related to exactly how the pandemic has affected mental health, recent surveys show that over 13% of Americans have started using substances, relapsed, or increased their substance use in order to cope with the impact of Covid-19 on their lives. An increase of 18% in overdoses since the start of the pandemic is even more telling of the seriousness of the problem faced by people with SUD’s.

In general, those in recovery report experiencing greater feelings of fear (51%), loneliness (42%), sadness (51%), and worry (62%). These negative emotions increased the need for self-medication as well as the risk of relapse for those in recovery from addiction to a substance.

In general, those in recovery report experiencing greater feelings of fear (51%), loneliness (42%), sadness (51%), and worry (62%). These negative emotions increased the need for self-medication as well as the risk of relapse for those in recovery from addiction to a substance.

2. Closure Of Treatment Centers

Substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation centers were not spared from closure during the  lockdown,and many have not been able to recover and reopen.  Centers that are operating have reported staffing problems as well as a decrease in in-patient visits.  Covid-19 regulations such as the need for social distancing have also affected the amount of people that can receive treatment at any one time.

A recent APF survey found that 34% of respondents had difficulty accessing treatment for substance abuse since the beginning of the pandemic.

3. Lack Of Support

Recovery from addiction often relies on ongoing support to avoid relapse. Covid-19 regulations related to distancing, social gatherings, and isolation have resulted in a lack of support for recovering addicts. Support groups, peer support, and 12-step programs have become less and less accessible. This lack of support increases the risk of relapse for those with a substance abuse disorder who are recovering on an out-patient basis or continuing their recovery after a stay at a rehab or recovery center.

4. Covid-19 Risk Profile

Substance abusers are at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 and often have worse symptoms. The nature of drug addiction puts them in contact with or close proximity with other drug users, increasing the spread of the infection. It is important for health care workers and substance abusers to be aware of the increased risk that they pose to themselves and to others.

So how are these problems that people are facing with substance abuse disorder being addressed:

1. Psychological Treatment For Substance Abuse

Psychologists are in the unique position to offer treatment for mental health issues arising from Covid-19 and the related social restrictions that have been put in place. Therapy can be offered virtually to those who have access to the internet or on an in-person basis for low-income, minority, and homeless substance abuse patients. Psychological treatment for substance abuse has been found to be specifically helpful in the treatment of the disorder.

Pharmaceutical treatment with Methadone for the abuse of methamphetamines has been made available to patients who are considered to be stable for between 14 and 28 days rather than 1 daily dose that previously needed to be received in person and monitored. Buprenorphine can now be prescribed to treat substance abuse without an in-person visit to a doctor. These two changes limit the risk of relapse and the risk of contracting Covid-19 for both substance abuse patients and their caregivers.

2. Telemedicine For Substance Abuse Treatment

Telemedicine has been found to be an appropriate replacement for treatment in a substance abuse rehab or treatment center. This is a process whereby the patient receives outpatient care and can be prescribed pharmaceuticals over a telephone. Because most people who have a substance abuse disorder do not have access to the internet and the tools to access online care, telemedicine is a more viable alternative.

Although measures are being put in place to provide for the needs of substance abuse disorders during Covid-19, treatment centers still play an important role in recovery.   Treatment centers have also adopted new regulations to enable them to continue providing in-patient care for substance abuse. New admissions are quarantined for a period, and those in recovery must abide by social distancing, mask-wearing, and other social restrictions.

3. Online Support

Counseling and peer support through online platforms have the same impact as face-to-face support; it addresses the lack of support that many substance abuse disorder patients rely on. Considering the fact that many people in recovery do not have access to these online platforms, programs are being put in place to facilitate communication and support that was previously available through in-person counseling, groups, 12-step programs and peer support.

Covid-19 is a reality that has presented unique challenges to those in recovery from substance abuse in a variety of different ways. Not only has the pandemic increased substance abuse, but it also made accessing treatment much more difficult. While it is important for healthcare workers to follow the protocols for preventing the spread of the disease, it is just as important to adapt the way treatment is made available for substance abuse to prevent the current drug crisis in the United States from worsening.

Challenges Faced By Those In Treatment And Recovery From Substance Abuse