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April 20, 2020

Recreational Drug Use and Increased Alcohol Consumption During COVID-19 Pandemic

The world is social distancing, everything is closed, and local watering holes are no longer serving up artisan cocktails. Yet the alcohol and drugs have not stopped flowing, and as people stay at home, alcohol sales skyrocket. Your local drug dealer may have also seen an uptick in the lives they contribute to destroying. State health officials have seen an increase in the number of overdose deaths. For some Americans, social isolation and self-distancing have turned into more online partying and experimenting with drugs. Some bars have even capitalized by hosting chat rooms and online happy hours for their patrons. You may also have had a friend or family member launch an online cocktail hour on Zoom or other social media platforms.  

Although staying connected is essential, and social media is now necessary to keep people in communication. Does including harmful substances benefit our mental wellbeing? Has the self-isolation and social distancing created the perfect storm for recreational drug use and excessive alcohol consumption? Friendship and belonging are fundamental human needs, which are not necessarily being met currently. Not having this connection, potential job loss, financial worries, being isolated, and the fear created by a pandemic significantly impacts our mental wellbeing. 

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol have long been a universal coping tool. Back in the world before COVID-19, for some people, if you had a rough day, that meant a trip to the bar and drinking socially. Others may have gone home and used drugs recreationally in their attempt to unwind. The reality is, the average person may not have thought twice about the impact of recreational drug use and social drinking patterns before the pandemic. Before COVID-19, we went about our lives, did our jobs, went on vacation, and spent time with family and friends. Recreational drug use and social drinking or excessive alcohol consumption were part of this, for some, but not all.  

However, it is those few who incorporated it as part of their life before the pandemic, may now turn to these substances more frequently. These Zoom cocktail parties, psychedelic drug experimentation, or even your morning marijuana joint has the potential now to lead to something more. The entire global economy is impacted, people are losing their jobs, being laid off and wondering when their next paycheck will come. Families are socially distancing and isolating from one another. All levels of media provide their viewers with wall to wall coverage of COVID-19. Attempting to get a daily intake of some good news and uplifting information is more challenging now and involves searching for it. The global pandemic has created what could be considered the perfect storm regarding substance abuse, alcohol consumption, and recreational drug use. 

Those with an existing substance use disorder are more at risk of contracting the disease. Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs, those who smoke tobacco, use marijuana, opioids, or even methamphetamine are at significant risk. Some illegal drug dealers and users are also stockpiling illicit drugs, along with their toilette paper supply. There are international concerns about the drop in the supply of illicit drugs. Scenarios such as this pose a significant risk for current drug users who will then turn to more dangerous alternatives. Fewer drugs on the street mean more people are finding and misusing prescription drugs, doctor shopping, and even pharmaceutical drug theft. The local drug dealer may have also increased their prices and decreased purity. 

People with pre-existing mental health issues may not have the support they need. Those with substance use disorders are also not receiving the treatment they need. If there was ever a time to reconsider recreational drug use and alcohol consumption, this is it. However, if you are unsure if what you are doing is impacting your mental wellbeing, there are some criteria to consider. Substance use leads to cravings and a strong desire to use drugs or alcohol. More time is spent using these substances, and there is a persistent desire to stop using. Still, the attempt is unsuccessful—recurrent use of drugs or alcohol results in a failure to fulfill major roles or obligations. The use of drugs or alcohol has also become physically or psychologically hazardous. Your substance use has also now created a tolerance or dependence.      

Life now is stressful and boring, and people are coping in different ways. Families are at home with kids, spouses, while also struggling with social, financial, and job stress. The threat of the virus is seen on every media and news platform. With all this occurring, it is not a surprise that recreational drug use and alcohol consumption have become a way to cope. But, it should not be the one constant that brings people together. If a person was ever to have a reason to drink more alcohol, use more drugs, and escape the world, this is the time. Yet, the opposite is also true; if there was ever a time to stop using drugs or alcohol, ask for help, or talk about it, now is the time. Coming together and connecting with others, mainly to provide support, during COVID-19 is essential. Human beings are social creatures and need a connection with other people. However, while connecting with others, asking for help is not easy. Because the world we live in now is online more than ever, online therapy is a practical solution. Also, consider using that Zoom meeting happy hour to talk about what is going on. 

People around the world are coming together in new and unique ways. Communities and the people in them are supporting one another. When those who require help are not reaching out, others are reaching in. Substance abuse, addiction, recreational drug use, or excessive alcohol consumption does not have to contribute to creating the perfect storm. It was easy to use drugs or alcohol to escape reality before COVID-19, and it is much easier now. Stay aware of your situation and how it impacts your mental wellbeing and the mental health of the people around you. Look within your local community, and you will see the good that others do to help those in need.  

If you are struggling, reach out for help, stay connected, and allow others to reach out to you. Despite the endless news cycles, wall to wall coverage, social media, and often cringe Instagram inspirational quotes. The only constant in this new temporary world is just that, it is temporary, and will not be this way forever.                               


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