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COVID-19, Loneliness, and Addiction: How the Pandemic is Fueling a Substance Abuse Crisis

By June 24, 2021September 2nd, 2021No Comments
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Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, our country has witnessed a devastating spike in substance abuse, addiction, and drug and alcohol related deaths. Alcohol sales are up 250%, suggesting that drinking has become a common way to cope with the stress and isolation we have all been facing for months on end. Opioid overdoses have increased in 40 states. One study found that 63% of adults nationwide have increased their substance use as a way ton cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily due to related stress, boredom, or anxiety.

The past year has been immensely difficult for everyone. The underlying issues that cause substance abuse are all being exasperated by the pandemic: anxiety, depression, isolation, stress, relationship issues, and trauma symptoms. Read more about Mental Health.


Johann Hari once said that “the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It is human connection.” For too many of us, the human connection that keeps us afloat has been strained or severed like never before. The communities those in recovery rely on may have dissolved or changed in ways that fail to meet people’s emotional needs. An AA meeting on Zoom may not provide enough support for some to maintain their sobriety. Sober social meetups or religious gatherings may be on hiatus. Many of us may lean on our coworkers, classmates, gym mates, or rec sports teams for social and emotional support, and now find ourselves deprived of the conversations that kept us going. Others are unable to travel to see their family and loved ones. I for one miss all the little things. Lingering with the other parents at school drop off. Dancing side by side with others in my favorite Zumba class. Gathering with multiple families for dinner. I never realized how much these little bits and pieces of life fed my soul until they were suddenly gone.

I have heard therapists informally refer to addiction as an “attachment” disorder, theorizing that substance abuse is a response to a maladaptive relational pattern learned early in childhood. In other words, drugs and alcohol fill the void that our early relational wounds leave when when our needs for connection are not adequately met. They keep us company in loneliness and boredom. They are soothingly predictable when the people in our lives have failed to be, when the world fails to be. They provide the illusion that we can escape from the chaos of life right now, even as they ironically drive our lives into deeper and darker turmoil. It In the absence of adequate human interaction, the allure of substances may be the only way some know how to cope.


I would be hard-pressed to find a person who’s stress hasn’t increased by the COVID pandemic. A sense of safety in the world has been ruptured when every small task, from checking the mail to buying groceries may feel like a risk to your health. Financial woes are pervasive. People have lost their jobs and their businesses. Others are fearful of doing so. Parents are attempting to balance their own work with homeschooling their children. Relationships are strained by finances, illness worries, and childcare struggles. All of these things put a strain on mental health, and can bring on or exasperate anxiety and depression. With increased stressors and fewer opportunities for healthy coping, it is not surprising people are turning to increased alcohol and drug use to manage the emotional rollercoaster of a pandemic.


Last spring when the country began shutting down and many began working remotely from home, I remember hearing a lot of jokes about how great it was to stay in the same pajama bottoms for days on end. As someone who spent several years as a stay at home parent, I can attest to what a horrible trap this is for your mental health. Waking up at the same time each day, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and, yes, putting on real pants, are essential to wellbeing. Routines keep us mentally stable, grounded, and provide a foundation for doing the work of recovery. They also are a powerful way to send the message to ourselves that we are important and worthy of self-care. But when we have nowhere to go, it can be all too easy to let these small routines slip, let the self-care slip, and create a breeding ground for depression and relapse.

Am I at Risk for Addiction?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important to watch out for the warning signs of drug and alcohol addiction in yourself or your loved ones:

  • Secretiveness around drug or alcohol use, or feeling defensive when confronted about use
  • Increased tolerance to the substance
  • Lying to loved ones about use
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, and/or recovering from drugs or alcohol
  • Drugs or alcohol negatively affecting your functioning at work or other areas of your life
  • Continued use, despite negative consequences of use
  • Needing the substance to feel relaxed or confident
  • Using in the morning or when you’re alone
  • Craving the substance
  • Feelings of guilt around using
  • Blacking out
  • Getting more intoxicated than you intend to
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Withdrawal symptoms

We’re here to help

Flatirons Recovery is available 24/7 to assist in starting the journey to recovery. We are addressing this unique time not only with increased COVID safety protocols, but also in offering financial assistance to those in need during this difficult time. Our dual-diagnosis approach to addiction addresses each person holistically, helping to heal not only the substance abuse but what underlies it.

Author Flatirons Recovery

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