The long-term side effects of COVID-19 have become more apparent as the pandemic has continued for over a year; that doesn’t just mean the long term effects related to the health problems of the virus, but also the societal consequences.
Mental health conditions are at an all-time high, children have missed the social interaction of school and activities, there’s been isolation and loneliness, and our routines have been interrupted. People had to cancel milestones in their lives, and while some could work from home, others lost their jobs altogether.
This has led to a “perfect storm” in terms of mental illness and addiction also.
Covid-19 and Substance Abuse
The consequences of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic are likely to affect the addiction crisis for a long time in America.
The situation has been referred to as two epidemics: the COVID-19 epidemic and the addiction epidemic. The impacts on mental health and addiction and addiction treatment could be long-term effects of COVID-19 that medical centers continue to experience for years or even decades.
Many addiction specialists were warning there could be severe repercussions for those people with substance use disorders from the early days of the pandemic. Nearly every element of the COVID-19 pandemic is a trigger for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or relapse.
- With the shutdowns and social distancing came isolation. Many people no longer had in-person access to those social support networks that were a lifeline for them in their addiction recovery.
- When you can’t see your loved ones and friends in person, it takes a tremendous toll on you mentally, even if you don’t have a substance use disorder.
- There wasn’t just social damage—there’s also been staggering economic damage. Businesses had to close their doors entirely, meaning that people were left unemployed. While there have been enhanced unemployment benefits from the government, not everyone qualifies, which doesn’t do much to alleviate the uncertainty of losing your job.
- For business owners, there has been stress as well. They feel the pressure of not serving customers and the personal financial impacts that it has, and the results it has on their employees who depend on them.
- Along with isolation and economic instability, many people have experienced tremendous worries about their health and the health of their loved ones. The news has created a constant barrage of negative imagery reflecting the severity of the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. and worldwide. This imagery is likely to continue to haunt many people and create more long-term side effects of COVID-19 that affect their mental health.
- More than half a million people have died in the U.S. alone, and this reality is a difficult one to struggle with.
The post covid impacts on addiction have been even more profound on vulnerable populations, such as the homeless. They haven’t had access to many of the resources they depended on before the pandemic. Communities have struggled with providing these needed resources for vulnerable populations but have faced challenges in doing so.
Other vulnerable populations that the effects of COVID-19 have most impacted include those who live in multifamily homes, individuals with limited health care access, and disenfranchised communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. in the 12-month period that ended in May 2020. That was the highest number of overdose deaths recorded in a one-year period ever.
The number of overdose deaths was already increasing in 2019, but those accelerated when COVID-19 struck. The former CDC Director, Robert Redfield, spoke out and said that as we were fighting the pandemic, it was important not to overlook the unintended consequences of the pandemic and how those were affecting people with substance use disorders.
Effects on Young People
One demographic most affected by the long-term side effects of COVID-19 is likely to be younger people. Research shows us that social interaction and being involved in school, and community activities are protective factors for substance use among youth.
Unfortunately, for more than a year, many young people haven’t been able to attend in-person school, see their friends, or do their everyday activities.
Parents have to be mindful that these effects might not just be short-term. Trauma in childhood is linked to future substance abuse and adverse mental health effects.
Mental Health During COVID-19
It isn’t just people with substance use disorders who will likely impact the long-term side effects of COVID-19. Mental health risks during COVID-19 have raised red flags across the board.
Research conducted has found a significantly higher level of anxiety, stress, irritability, and depression among the general population during the pandemic.
Studies have shown that people are increasingly relying on negative coping strategies during this time, including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, junk food, and excessive sleep. People have been getting less physical activity and consuming more news and social media content.
Much like a natural disaster, it’s possible that the pandemic, which is a public health crisis, will have a lasting effect on people. In general, traumatic experiences are linked to higher levels of depression, PTSD, and substance use.
Lack of Access to Care
When people with substance use disorders needed it most, the pandemic halted the lifelines people with substance use disorders and mental health disorders rely on to stay alive.
For example, many treatment centers couldn’t provide traditional services because of social distancing guidelines. Health care centers were pushing off other types of treatment to ensure they had the space and resources for COVID-19 patients. Non-essential care wasn’t being provided at all.
Many addiction resources such as 12-step meetings couldn’t happen in person either.
Medication-assisted treatment programs often require that someone visit a clinic daily to receive their treatment. Again, people may have limited access to those programs if they were available at all.
This all compounds the effects on mental health during COVID-19 and the long-term side effect of COVID-19.
The Positive Effects of COVID on Addiction Treatment
While the sad reality is that many of the effects on mental health during COVID-19 and the long-term side effects of COVID-19 are devastating, there are some positive things that may come from this situation.
First, we are now administering vaccines on a mass level in the U.S. and globally, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic. Beyond that, addiction treatment centers and providers have taken great strides in how they reach their patients and how they help people. Physical distancing forced the world of telemedicine and virtual care to grow at a rapid rate during the pandemic. People became comfortable communicating in new ways. For example, Zoom meetings became a daily occurrence in not just the work world but also for 12-step meetings.
Therapists and health care providers are now offering more remote services, and addiction treatment specialists can check in with their patients in new ways.
That doesn’t mean that the in-person interactions that are so valuable in addiction treatment and recovery will end, but what it instead means is that more options and opportunities might be available.
These changes could reduce some treatment barriers and accessibility issues that have been a long-standing issue in addiction treatment.
There is no doubt that we will feel the long-term side effects of COVID-19 well into the future, and some of those adverse effects could take years even to become apparent. With that in mind, it’s so essential for people to recognize red flags in themselves and their loved ones and reach out for support when they need it.
It is finally starting to feel like we are only now just starting to recover from covid-19, and while there is still a long way to go, self-care is more important now than ever. We may not be living in a post-covid-19 world, just yet but we still want you to know that mental health and addiction services are still available.
If you’re looking for a slice of normal in today’s climate, Opus Health offers in-person addiction treatment that follows all CDC guidelines to keep your health in mind. Contact us today and get started with your treatment program.