COVID 19 test swab being held by two gloved hands.

COVID-19 is Making the Addiction Pandemic Worse

It’s no secret that the novel coronavirus pandemic has put a massive strain on people all over the world, but one area that is often overlooked is how the pandemic has affected substance abuse and addiction. Data from the National Institute of Health (NIH) shows that those with substance abuse disorders are 1.5 times more likely to become infected with COVID-19, but more than that, they are also at much higher risk of severe illness (41% for drug users vs 30% for non-drug users) and even death (9.6% vs 6.6%.) Even among fully vaccinated people, substance abuse has a measurable effect. NIH studies show that, amongst fully vaccinated people, 7% of those with a substance abuse disorder (SUD) experienced a breakthrough infection, compared to just 3.6% of non-drug users.


It’s important to note that while there is certainly a clear link between SUDs and adverse health outcomes with COVID-19, the mechanisms behind these correlations are varied and complex, and both medical and social. For example, opioid use is known to affect respiration, slowing the user’s breathing and potentially leading to hypoxemia (low blood oxygen). It is easy to imagine how that might negatively interact with a respiratory illness like COVID-19 and lead to worse health outcomes. On the social side, because of the stigma against drug use, many users may be more reluctant to seek out medical care and may wait longer to seek the care they need, or avoid it altogether.  


The effects of the pandemic are far-reaching, even beyond the medical outcomes of drug users infected with COVID-19. We know that over the course of the pandemic, drug and alcohol use increased across the country. According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA,) 15.4% of people who drink alcohol reported an increase in their alcohol usage than before the pandemic, and 10.3% of those who use drugs other than alcohol reported an increase in their drug use than before the pandemic.  


More than just an increase in substance use, reported drug overdoses have also risen across the country. An NIH study recently found that drug overdoses shot up by 30% in 2020, and the US set a record for overdose deaths in 2020 with over 93,000 overdose deaths reported. According to research published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, while more research still needs to be done, this sharp increase in overdose deaths is largely a consequence of the social effects of the pandemic–increased stress, anxiety, social isolation, uncertainty and anxiety about the future–coupled with the increasing presence of fentanyl in the streets and in tainted drugs. 


The past two years have been difficult for all of us. You are not struggling alone. If you or a loved one have been struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, know that change is possible and help is here if you reach out. At Sunshine Behavioral Health, we have a world-class team of dedicated professionals who are here to help you. Reach out to us, and take the first step on the road to recovery today. 



Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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