Experts tie pandemic isolation to surge in substance abuse

There have been plenty of jokes and memes poking fun at alcohol use during quarantine, but experts say problems with substance abuse have indeed increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

When businesses across the nation were forced to close, liquor stores stayed open, and substance abuse experts say they’re now treating the many who resorted to alcohol and drugs to get through the coronavirus economic shutdown.

“Now we’ve picked up--now we’re crazy busy,” said Jamie McKibben with Life Giving Life “The Recovery Project.”

The number of people seeking help for substance abuse at her recovery center has doubled since February, said McKibben. She says many of her clients say their substance abuse problem began with boredom in home isolation.

“One thing we tell the people who come in seeking treatment for substance abuse is to not isolate,” said Cameron Kincaid with Serenity House Detox. “That’s the first thing we really tell people—is to not isolate—so when coronavirus came around, people were forced to isolate.”

Kincaid helps people overcome drugs and alcohol at Serenity House Detox. He says the call volume at his business went way up when the pandemic hit in March.

“What happens when they isolate is they sit there and they’ll think,” said Kincaid. “So typically someone who struggles with substance abuse just sits there and thinks and thinks and contradicts themselves until almost the point of relapse, so over time we’ve seen this increase in relapse. We’ve seen this increase in overdose and even increase in suicides contingent upon coronavirus.”

Many of the tools used to help overcome addiction weren’t accessible during stay at home orders, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings had to be held via zoom.

“It’s a different kind of vibe that you get when you’re doing a Zoom,” said Rachel Ausbern with Legacy House, a women’s sober living home. “When I’ve done it, I personally don’t like it.”

Ausbern says social distancing has brought challenges--and even relapse for some.

“It just affects you—being inside somewhere, not having that interaction with other alcoholics is extremely hard on an addict,” said Ausbern. “Fellowship is huge.”

Experts say if you’re in quarantine and struggling with substance abuse, one of the big things you can do to help yourself is to pick up the phone, talk to someone and share what you’re going through.

There is also a new app that launched this week to help addicts in isolation. It’s called Your SoberBuddy.