Disruption of Drug and Alcohol Treatment During Covid-19

We have talked many times on this blog about factors that affect people in drug and alcohol treatment programs. Early in the Covid-19 crisis we discussed the many ways that ongoing drug and alcohol treatment might be disrupted, and we also discussed how people in need of drug or alcohol treatment might be adversely affected by the pandemic. Now as the United States tries to vaccinate the population, we are beginning to see research that suggests some of the major disruptions that people faced during the pandemic. The study we looked at for today’s article is from the Journal of Addiction Medicine, and the researchers looked at disruptions in drug and alcohol treatment and childcare responsibilities as a factor in treatment disruption. Many of the people who need substance abuse treatment will have children, and many experts felt that Covid-19 could be particularly harmful for people with children and the ability of that demographic to maintain a treatment schedule. If you or a loved one needs drug or alcohol treatment in Florida or Alabama, Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center in Panama City is currently accepting patients and experts are available to help you at the phone number listed on the top of this page.

Cancellations of SUD Treatment Due to Covid-19

This study looked at drug and alcohol treatment disruption in the early days of the pandemic in the United States. The researchers relied upon patient reported experiences as measured by a host of different scales and surveys. According to the study, “Participants in SUD treatment were recruited via online crowdsourcing from April 14, 2020 to May 26, 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis.” Many patients reported stress and anxiety due to the pandemic and their own substance use disorder issues, but many also reported disruptions in their actual treatment regimen due to Covid-19. Patients participating in the study were also asked to answer surveys about their own stress related to childcare responsibilities. Beyond just reporting on disruptions in treatment and stress related to those disruptions and other responsibilities, patients reported any sleep disruptions that were experienced and drug and alcohol use that may have occurred during this time frame. Over 60% of patients in a drug and alcohol treatment program reported a switch from in-person visits to telemedicine care. I have endorsed telemedicine in many cases on this blog, but it is interesting that so many patients were switched to telemedicine programs who were initially treated face to face. It is likely that with the pandemic raging, and cases of Covid-19 becoming more frequent and deadlier, providers had no choice but to opt for safer forms of treatment. Over 35% of patients had one or more appointments cancelled. Over 29% of respondents saw programs for substance use disorder cancelled entirely. This situation, with programs disappearing, can obviously leave people with no place to turn.

Patients Left to Suffer

We have been talking about quality of care during Covid-19 and challenges faced by providers for months now. Many people in positions to understand the healthcare system knew that a large-scale shutdown would be catastrophic for many people with substance use disorder. I remember multiple stories in which we covered the protocols at medication assisted treatment facilities, and the way that many of those protocols would fail during Covid. That is reflected in the data we are seeing in this study. Over 29% of patients saw full program cancellations. Without any inside knowledge, one could guess that methadone and suboxone programs might have been part of that 29%. In many places we saw no ability to adapt to the pandemic, and in many of those cases patients were left to suffer. The researchers who wrote this journal article concluded that providers and public health officials would need to improve continuity of care and quality of care in the future. I would add to that the need for programs to adopt a patient-first attitude that has been lacking for years in the area of drug and alcohol treatment. Places like Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center make it a priority to treat substance use disorder patients as individuals and with empathy and compassion. On this blog we have been able to point out various areas where interests other than patient care have crept into drug and alcohol treatment, and Covid-19 disruptions made it obvious where basic patient-centered protocols and planning were sorely lacking.

By T.A. Cannon (Contact me at TACannonWriting@gmail.com)


Huhn AS, Strain EC, Jardot J, Turner G, Bergeria CL, Nayak S, Dunn KE. Treatment Disruption and Childcare Responsibility as Risk Factors for Drug and Alcohol Use in Persons in Treatment for Substance Use Disorders During the COVID-19 Crisis. J Addict Med. 2021 Feb 5. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000813. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33560698.