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Increased Substance Use During COVID

Heightened Fear of Relapse and Overdose

Whether you are a regular drug user needing help, someone in recovery, or you’re watching someone vanish in the abyss of addiction; the past two years have been indescribable. Managing the insanity of the pandemic has not been easy for anyone with a history of substance use.

Large numbers of drug users have reported increases in substance use. In addition, there has been a heightened fear of relapse and overdose. The impact of COVID-19 on substance use is significant. Yet there are solutions and tips to re-establish balance, prevent overdose, find treatment, or maintain sobriety through what is to come.

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Staying Sober During COVID—Top 5 Ways to Stay in Control

According to a Canadian Association of Mental Health survey published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, one in fourteen respondents, or 7%, indicated they had relapsed during COVID.

The primary factor in relapse was all the time spent alone and isolated with all the pandemic restrictions. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know the true rate of relapse during isolation periods and restrictions.

However, there are actionable solutions, and here are the top five ways to stay in control:

Stay in control.

  1. Participate in recovery meetings or support groups virtually or in-person. If you have a sponsor, call or video chat with them today. Express your need for extra support. Online meetings provide critical support and accountability when in-person are not available.
  2. Identify stress-relieving activities. Extroverting yourself or participating in activities that disconnect you from anxious, negative thoughts is hugely beneficial. It may include physical activity, going for a walk, or guided meditation.
  3. Communicate needs to your partner, family, or friends. It has been unprecedented times, and communication has never been so important. However, do not expect everyone to know exactly what you need to stay sober. Clearly communicate needs, wishes, and expectations.
  4. Never forget the basics of sobriety. Whether you have been sober for a week, month, or one year, the acronym H.A.L.T. should apply. Anticipate the times you are likely to become Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, and have a plan to cope.
  5. Be aware of your own rationalizations to drink or use drugs. It is normal to attempt to justify or normalize one drink or one dose. Yet, write down one or two reasons why you are committed to your recovery for every one of these justifications. Be specific and keep that list handy.

Preventing Overdose and Finding Treatment

What it Means to Re-Establish Balance

Nearly half of the CAMH survey respondents indicated their substance use had increased during COVID. Almost four in ten respondents said they believed they were more at risk of overdose. Unfortunately, opioids have been a significant contributor.

According to Health Canada, from April to June 2019 to April to June 2021, there was a 66% increase in opioid toxicity deaths. Preventing overdose is imperative, yet finding treatment should be at the forefront.

Re-establishing balance to get help is done through the following steps:

  1. Actively be aware of overdose prevention. Whether you are a drug user or not, Naloxone is available in Canada. There is also a Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. In addition, there are excellent detoxification programs in every major city across the country. Recovering from a fatal overdose is one thing, but entering detox is the next step.
  2. Immediately find a substance use treatment center. Every province has a provincial health authority and access to subsidized programs. Yet, we recommend taking advantage of the private sector: no wait times, better rehabilitation, and payment options.

The Smallest Step

Every action or step forward may seem minor, or it may feel like nothing has been accomplished. Yet, for someone addicted to drugs or alcohol or anyone in recovery, the smallest step forward during COVID insanity is lifesaving.

Ask yourself what you can do to get help or how you can make your sobriety more attainable and long-lasting. It could begin with recognizing your increased substance use, preventing relapse, or coming through the other side of an overdose, realizing you need drug rehab.

COVID-19 related stresses are disproportionately impacting people with a history of substance use. However, the solutions are there, and the resources are closer than you think.

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