COVID-19 has been an isolating, stressful and destructive force, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen in over a century. It has had implications in so many unexpected aspects of our lives — people are losing their jobs, major life events like weddings and graduations are being cancelled and everyone’s future is being put on hold. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that addictive behaviors are being affected as well.
Alcohol and Drug Interventionists Jonathan Beazley and Anne Thompson Heller — both licensed clinicians at Student Health and Wellness, Mental Health — explained that addictive behavior has been able to flourish in a number of ways during quarantine.
Beazley said, while the actual statistics for increased addictive behavior are not yet available, the conditions people are living under while in quarantine have historically led to increased use of drugs and alcohol. This is mainly due to the social isolation people are experiencing.
“As addictions progress in severity, from frequent, problematic use, to compulsive behavior, the people struggling with this problem typically decrease their contact with others,” Beazley said in an email.
This decreased contact is often due to the realization that their use of a drug is different from their peers. Thus, to avoid scrutiny and the stigma of addiction, people struggling with addictive behavior may begin using their drug alone or in secret. Being that everyone is forced to isolate themselves right now, there is no need to create an excuse for reclusive behavior and so people are able to accidentally slip into new or old addictions more easily.
“This is why most pathways to recovery center around cultivating supportive social groups: The fellowship is, essentially, the antidote to the isolation essential for addictions to thrive,” Beazley said.
In addition to the isolation factor, addiction has also been affected by the uncertainty of supply. When stores were first shut down last month, people began hoarding items like toilet paper and alcohol in fear they would no longer be available.
“For many, not having available wine, beer or liquor to cope with the stress of infection, unemployment, sick loved ones and a larger uncertain future, was a further concern,” Beazley said. “And for those with developing alcohol use problems, that prospect was absolutely frightening.”
Beazley said this has been the case for users of cannabis, especially now that Massachusetts has declared cannabis dispensaries unessential businesses for those without medical cards. He said people in Connecticut will now have to rely on contacts with medical cards in order to get their supply. He worries that this imbalance in supply will lead to those who have managed to retain a steady supply to use cannabis more frequently and in higher amounts.
“The uncertain length of our need to quarantine, and the broad periods of open time once filled with socializing, will make increased use of weed an easy way to cope with the ennui to those already regular consumers,” Beazley said.
Thompson Heller added addictive behaviors may also be worsened by an increased difficulty for people to seek help and treatment.
“Current trends indicate an increased need for behavioral health care and a simultaneous decline in the number of people accessing those services,” Thompson Heller said in an email.
This decline may be due to the fear of contracting the virus, the belief that treatment may be unavailable at this time and the barriers that certain levels of care may warrant. For instance, outpatient services are accessible through telehealth and thus have been highly utilized, whereas inpatient/residential programs have been more limited due to quarantine protocols.
“It is important people know there is help available,” Thompson Heller said. “In addition to the telehealth services, several agencies have adjusted hours to try and accommodate clients and implemented other programs and services to accommodate needs.”
Emily Pagano, the health promotion manager at Student Health and Wellness, and Sandy Valentine, the coordinator for the UConn Recovery Community, explained that UConn offers a number of avenues for students to seek help. Like Beazley, they believe communication and connection is key for fighting addictive behavior.
“UConn’s U-Kindness Initiative offers a variety of opportunities to stay connected with the UConn community, wherever you are,” Pagano and Valentine said in an email.
They encourage students to reach out if they aren’t happy with the role drugs play in their lives, especially if they believe it is impacting their health, finances, relationships or schoolwork.
“The UConn Recovery Community is continuing to meet virtually and would invite anyone interested in connecting with other students who are in similar situations to join us,” Pagano and Valentine said.
Rebecca Maher is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.