Few people who live together are around each other all the time. Most individuals have separate work, friends, errands, hobbies, and other activities from each other. These busy routines mean that all too often, we don’t fully know the behaviors of the people we live with unless we come face-to-face with them.
Stress, Substance Misuse, Quarantine, and the Pandemic
During Arizona’s stay-at-home mandate, millions of residents suddenly discovered new sides of friends, family members, roommates, and others with whom they were sequestered. While many people reported spending additional quality time together, others experienced more troubling issues. One major concern is drug and alcohol use.
The quarantine is an unprecedented event with definite impact on our lives. Everyone deals with circumstances differently, and there are numerous methods to handle stress, anxiety, depression, job loss, uncertain futures, and other real challenges with mental health. Unfortunately, some people choose substances as a means to cope with what they can’t control or to mask emotions.
- An April 2020 article in The Lancet alluded to a growing health crisis regarding alcohol use and misuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. One particular critical point: “Impulsivity can moderate stress-induced consumption of alcohol and is also associated with relapse in addicted individuals. Thus, this period of isolation might lead to a spike in alcohol misuse, relapse, and potentially, development of alcohol use disorder in at-risk individuals.”
- Kaiser Health News noted in March 2020 that a current shift in 12-Step and other support groups from face-to-face accountability to virtual attendance during the pandemic quarantine compounds the fact that addiction is often “a disease of isolation.” Other challenges, such as closed detox and methadone clinics, a significant COVID-19 risk to an underserved homeless population, and a lack of insurance coverage for telehealth substance abuse treatment all contribute to genuine concerns for people with addiction problems.
- In a May 2020 feature for The Washington Post, writer David Poses—who’s managed recovery for 12 years—outlined the tragedies involving social distancing. This practice, while potentially saving lives from the pandemic, is a crushing blow to people who rely on medication for treatment of substance use disorder, or may be confronting a problem for the first time. “Just 11 percent of the more than 21 million Americans struggling with substance abuse received needed treatment in 2018,” he said.
With that stark statistic in mind, if someone you’re quarantined with is demonstrating certain behaviors and you’re concerned about their wellbeing, here are some steps to take.
Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder
Even though each person has unique struggles, there are common signs of an addiction problem you might notice with your quarantine buddy. WebMD suggests you should be alert to the following:
- Behavioral changes, including being more secretive, hiding away, heightened irritability or despondency, or a sudden shift in mood after alone time
- Bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or tremors
- Indulging more in alcohol or recreational drugs, either with quantity or time spent
- Problems with money, including meeting regular financial obligations or trouble paying debts
- A lack of interest in normal activities or relationships allowed during this time
- Neglecting personal care, even though staying at home allows for a more casual appearance
- Emotional, mental, and physical health changes, including extreme weight loss/gain, lack of energy, sleep disturbances, increased anxiety, or deeper depression
- Blackouts or other moments of lost time, or getting sick more frequently
- Expressions of suicidal thoughts
Maybe a few of these signs appeared in various ways before the quarantine, and now you feel a serious issue needs to be addressed. It’s important to act compassionately but with swiftness so your friend or loved one doesn’t have continued trouble.
Talking About an Addiction Problem
In many circumstances, someone with substance use disorder might not be aware how much the problem has escalated until they have a formal diagnosis from a qualified health professional—or maybe they know they have an addiction problem but are in denial.
It’s important to start a productive conversation about what you’ve noticed, so here are some options:
- Express your concern about their welfare. Pick a calm time and share your thoughts and feelings with “I” statements, such as, “I’ve noticed you seem to be drinking more lately—can you tell me how you’re feeling?” or “I feel there are some recent behavioral changes that might be challenging. Can we talk about them?”
- Share some online support information. If you feel your quarantine buddy might benefit from seeking help privately, introduce them to various mental health and substance abuse resources.
- Hold an intervention. This is a structured meeting with the individual, led by a certified professional and attended by caring friends and family. With social distancing still recommended, it might be challenging at first to arrange this, but small groups of 10 or fewer people observing safe practices are allowed.
In most cases, it’s necessary to prompt someone to seek professional help after these actions, and encourage them with your support and guidance.
The Cottonwood Staff Is Ready to Provide Quality Care
Cottonwood Tucson is considered an essential health organization during the pandemic, and follows all CDC regulations for accepting new patients and ensuring their health. So there’s no need to wait for COVID-19 to be over to build a new path to wellness: the time for treatment is now.
First, direct your friend or loved one to our self-assessment quizzes so they can process how they feel and their behaviors, and determine why this decision matters to them.
If they realize they need treatment, the next step might be the Cottonwood Assessment Program, a four-day intensive that provides whole-person qualitative evaluations from our board-certified staff; consultations regarding trauma, grief, loss, spirituality, and nutrition; and other aspects of addiction treatment preparation.