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The Rise In Substance Abuse + Substance Use Disorders During The Pandemic 

The Rise In Substance Abuse + Substance Use Disorders During The Pandemic

This pandemic has been hard on all of our souls. It’s been particularly hard for people who were already facing mental health disorders, including substance use disorder. Preliminary research has shown that problems with drug and alcohol addiction have gone way up during the pandemic. Substance abuse is on the rise.

So what’s going on? Why has substance use disorder risen so much during the pandemic, and what can we do about it? Here are all the important facts you need to know.

Drug Use Has Gone Way Up During the Pandemic: Why?

The CDC reports that 13% of Americans started using substances to cope as a response to the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. It might sound normal that many of us are resorting to getting high or drunk because of everything we’ve faced this past year, but these statistics have darker, scarier consequences, too. Opioid overdose death rates are also on the rise, and many people have started using other, more dangerous drugs like fentanyl.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with how much all of our mental health suffered in 2020. Between lockdowns, losing our jobs, and the constant fear of getting sick, rates of anxiety and depression have spiked across the nation. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms are risk factors for increased substance use. people use drugs and alcohol to cope with stress and self-medicate.

COVID Changed The Substance Abuse Landscape

Other factors also come into play. We know that the pandemic has caused pretty significant shifts in what kinds of drugs are available on the street. People could have started using drugs like fentanyl because they suddenly couldn’t get their usual dose of heroin, for example.

Even for those of us who aren’t battling a serious drug or alcohol addiction, the increase in substance use disorders over this past year is something we all need to pay attention to. Whether you’re experiencing an increase in substance use that concerns you or someone you love is the one struggling, there are ways to get and give support.

Help Is Out There: How To Cope Without Substances

We’re not here to judge you for any substance use you decide to partake in. But keep in mind that both alcohol and drugs usually hurt us more than they help us. They can make us feel relaxed in that moment. They can even help us forget about our stressors for a while. But they often lead to worse mental health long-term.

Instead of reaching for the bottle opener or corkscrew when you’re stressed, try to engage in these healthier coping tools to get through what are hopefully the last few months of pandemic life.

Get Support For Substance Abuse

Whether it’s a sponsor, a church leader, a friend, or your grandma, support is key to staying on the road to recovery. Depending on how serious you think your challenges with substance abuse are, you may want to consider attending an online 12-step group. Most substance abuse counselors and psychotherapists are providing telehealth services as well, and many treatment centers are accepting clients for inpatient care. Qualified professional help is essential if you’re facing a diagnosable substance use disorder.

If you’re just needing support to deal with all of life’s stresses more healthily, your social network may be enough. Try not to isolate yourself more than we all already have to. Use social media and technology to keep in touch with the friends and family you can’t see in person, and be there for each other during pandemic life’s hardest moments.

Avoid Triggers

Every person trying to recover from a drug or alcohol addiction should take time to learn their triggers. When do you feel most tempted to use substances? Is it when you’re bored? When you’re stressed? Is it when you’re in a social environment where everyone else is using?

Whatever your triggers are, do your best to avoid them until you feel confident that you can resist temptation. When avoidance is impossible, make a plan for yourself of how you’re going to say no and walk away from the urge to drink or do drugs. It may also be a good idea to take drugs and alcohol out of your immediate vicinity. If you don’t have it on hand, you’re much less likely to use it in the spur-of-the-moment.

Relaxing Activities

Self-care and relaxation are going to look different for everyone. Odds are that we don’t need to tell you how to relax. Maybe it’s a bath that soothes you or going for a run. It could be a Zoom party with friends. Whatever self-care activity you choose is likely going to be a healthier way to cope with stress than resorting to drugs and alcohol.

If you’re looking for new ways to relax, try mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness has an impressive amount of research behind it, backing its claim to help people deal with stress and feel happier in their day-to-day lives.

How To Support A Loved One With Addiction

Maybe it’s not you who you’re worried about, but a friend or family member. When a loved one is battling addiction, it can wreak havoc on the lives of everyone around them. You can play an important role in supporting them through this, but you need to take care of yourself, too.

At the end of the day, you can’t force anybody to get the help they need. We all want our love to be enough to “cure” someone of an addiction, but remember that substance use disorder is a brain disease. Love can’t “cure” addiction any more than it can “cure” cancer. The decision to get help or continue living a life with drugs and alcohol is a decision each person needs to make for themselves. The best you can do is to talk to them about getting help and to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. 

Supporting Your Loved One With Substance Abuse

Here are some tips that might help you to support your loved one with substance use disorder:

  • Try talking to them one-on-one. Often, people with substance use disorder don’t realize the severity of their disease. If you and your loved one have a healthy and trusting relationship, try sitting down with them to express your concerns about their increased drug or alcohol use. Encourage them to get professional help.
  • Consider staging an intervention. Many treatment centers have an intervention service, where a qualified counselor can come support you and your family to approach the subject of substance abuse with your loved one. 
  • Make information known. Some people with SUD believe that they won’t be able to afford treatment, or don’t know where to start looking. If you’re familiar with a helpful resource in your community, share it with your loved one. The American Society of Addiction Medicine is a good place to start.
  • Support, but with boundaries. Of course, you can check in with your loved ones and let them know that you’re there for them. But becoming too involved in their recovery process can be unhealthy for both of you. Know where your boundaries are, and maintain them. Also, make sure you take care of yourself – you can’t support anyone if you’re burnt out. It isn’t cruel to put your own needs first: it’s healthy and necessary.

The pandemic has been hard on all of us. Many of us have resorted to coping with drugs and alcohol. While some of that is perhaps to be expected – we have, after all, been living with one of the worst global pandemics in human history – that doesn’t make it healthy.

If you think you or a loved one are suffering from a substance use disorder, professional help is out there. And, of course, the community here at Witted Roots is always rooting for you.

The content found on is provided for informational and educational purposes only. Absolutely no content to be found on is intended to serve as a substitute for the diagnosing, examining, and/or treatment performed by a qualified health professional. To learn more about our policies, please click here.

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