Drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at all-time highs before Covid-19. However, since the pandemic hit, these numbers have risen exponentially.
Covid has had a major impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of millions of people across the UK and all over the world. However, those in recovery and active addiction, are all too familiar with the consequences of isolation, anxiety, and fear.
The Office for National Statistics reported that over two-thirds of adults (69%) described feeling stressed, anxious and bored during lockdown. While these feelings are perfectly understandable during such an uncertain time, this type of situation is perfectly understandable, higher level of stress can lead to increased alcohol and substance use.
The recovery community was hit particularly hard during lockdown. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and SMART recovery were forced to shut their doors. As a result, many of those relying on the fellowship meetings began to suffer.
It meant that addictions resurfaced for a very high number of people already sober.
COVID-19 and the Addiction Recovery Community
Anna* is a former teacher from North London and had been sober for almost two years when the pandemic began. Not only did she struggle without meetings, but she also found it difficult to access groups via Zoom once they became available.
“I’m 59 years old, I’ve never been good with computers and technology. I just couldn’t get my head around the whole Zoom thing. It only made my anxiety worse. I gave it a go a couple of times, but I didn’t like it at all. The format was so awkward and uncomfortable to me. I missed the familiarity of face-to-face groups and connecting with people in person.” She explained.
“Of course, I was terrified of catching Covid. I was consuming negative media, hearing and reading about death on a daily basis, it’s a lot to deal with, especially for someone like me. Above all though, I was bored and alone.”
After six weeks in lockdown, Anna relapsed.
“I felt trapped like I couldn’t escape. There was nowhere for me to go – literally! Drugs had always been my escape from reality, and it was the only thing I felt I could do to relieve myself of the feelings of fear, loneliness and boredom.”
Anna revealed that she had no difficulty meeting dealers: “The street-drug supply seemed to be the only thing that hadn’t suffered as a result of the pandemic. Dealers don’t care about social distancing following the rules. They just continued as normal.”
Drug and Alcohol Addiction during Lockdown
Unfortunately, thousands of people across the UK found themselves in Anna’s position as a result of the pandemic, and not everyone would have been fortunate enough to access addiction treatment.
Data gathered by Public Health England from June 2020 found that over 8.4 million people in England were drinking at higher risk levels. This had increased from 4.8 million people in February. Additionally, National Drug Treatment Monitoring System statistics recorded 3,459 new cases of adults who were seeking treatment for opioid addiction. This figure had increased by over 20% from April the previous year.
While it’s too early to fully understand the long-term impact that Covid-19 has had on addiction, it is thought that the pandemic has most likely accelerated a dependency in people that might have otherwise materialised slowly over time.
The two groups most in need of support, according to the British Medical Journal in need of support — those already struggling with alcohol dependence and those on the brink. For them, dependence will be triggered by social isolation, loss of control over the situation they find themselves in, working from home, and the inability to connect with support networks. Each of these issues can very easily contribute to drinking and drug use.
During the first quarter of this year, Alcoholics Anonymous reported that it had received 26,000 inquiries, compared to the 19,000 the year before — followed by another 27,000 in the second quarter.
However, in some cases, the pandemic’s impact has given people the opportunity to reflect on their substance misuse.
Medical professionals advised that people in active addiction, and even those in early recovery could be more likely to develop serious complications if they catch Covid-19, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome.
In some cases, people are bingeing less frequently as social restrictions curb their visits to pubs and bars; the time has given them the opportunity to reflect on their drug and alcohol dependency and made them seek help.
*Names changed to protect identity