New Findings on Addiction During the Pandemic

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On the first of July, a large study was published that looked at subjects during the 12 months from June 2020 to June 2021. These subjects were all people suffering from substance use disorder, and the goal of the study was to characterize and understand all recovery-related experiences during a yearlong timeframe while the Covid-19 Pandemic was ongoing. On this blog we discussed the many ways that a viral pandemic would adversely affect people in recovery and people suffering from addiction generally. This study, published only a few days ago, is one of our first opportunities to see how our expectations compare to the realities faced by many people in recovery during the pandemic. Florida Springs is a licensed and accredited evidence-based treatment facility for people with substance use disorder (addiction), and the best drug and alcohol inpatient treatment in Florida is available in Panama City. If a family member of yours is in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse or may be returning home from treatment soon, we wrote about that topic recently. The first part of a series on families in recovery and picking up a family member from rehab can be found here.

Addictions During an Emergency

Successful recovery from the disease of addiction is facilitated by access to treatment professionals, regular healthcare, social-support, routine, and self-purpose. When conditions in the healthcare system changed because of the pandemic, with access to in-person medicine being prevented in many cases, experts in addiction medicine knew that there could be serious adverse effects. When dealing with the incredibly deadly disease of addiction, adverse effects will mean possible death for many people. The loss of all but “essential” care meant the loss of support groups and therapy sessions that many people were relying upon as an essential part of recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. For people who were not yet in recovery in March 2020, the effects are harder to measure, but maybe more deadly. Total deaths from substance use spiked upward almost 30% in the year 2020, and would continue to increase up to today, with this blog reporting in early 2022 that the previous two years had been, by far, the deadliest in history, with deaths from fentanyl and methamphetamine continuing to skyrocket.

On April 21st 2021, I wrote on this blog, “Over 35% of {SUD} 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.” I mentioned many new risk factors for people in recovery in that article from last year, with added childcare responsibilities during the Pandemic due to school cancellations being a major one, according to research published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. As this new study noted, routine and social support are foundational to recovery, and many people lost the ability to stick to a new routine and lost vital social support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Barriers to Care in a Pandemic

On this blog, over the last several years, we have probably talked about barriers to addiction healthcare more than any other topic. The authors of this new study spoke to 350 patients who were trying to maintain sobriety during the pandemic to get their thoughts on some of the new barriers to care that were presented by the Coronavirus outbreak. There were many new barriers discussed by this large group of patients. They described interruptions in practices that support recovery, as we talked about in the April 2021 article and since. One individual stated, “My recovery is dependent on structure—the pandemic uprooted every routine I had going.”

According to the authors,

“Changes in structured routines such as employment (e.g., “I couldn’t work, so I just kept using drugs.”), and treatment (e.g., “My halfway house is being shut down and I have to move out soon.”) were reported. Though participants described reduced access to therapy and support groups, individuals on medications for Opioid Use Disorder [Suboxone, Methadone, and Vivitrol programs] note continued access to treatment, stating “I’ve still been able to get vivitrol” and “my suboxone has continued,” though, individuals noted a delay in access, with one stating, “I was late on my vivitrol shot due to being quarantined.”

Looking at the totality of the new data, some themes emerged concerning barriers to recovery due to the onset of the pandemic. 29% of more of patients had one of the issues listed below,

  1. 12-step support meetings cancelled, shifted online, or changed in any facet.
  2. Being fired, furloughed, or experiencing any change in job format (e.g. work from home and shift in job responsibilities) (49.1%)
  3. Lessened social support from family, friends, and overall decreased sense of community (41.6%)
  4. Decreased opportunity for leisure activities (e.g. exercise, social events, and hobbies) (37.5%)
  5. Decreased access to treatment outside of 12-step meetings (e.g., closed recovery houses, interrupted therapy, availability of treatment programs etc.) or inability execute treatment plans (31.2%)
  6. Changes in personal schedule (e.g., new full-time care of a child or newfound free time; 31.2%)
  7. Worsened mental health (e.g., feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed; 29.1%).

It is important to understand all these causes of strife for people in recovery during the pandemic, as no doubt we will face similar challenges in the future. At the best drug and alcohol rehab in Florida, Florida Springs in Panama City, we work with our patients to develop a strong foundation of support, routine, and self-purpose, but the healthcare system, as a whole, must come to understand the ways in which programs of recovery can be undermined during a national emergency. If you or a family member needs more information on our programs here at Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center, call the phone number listed at the top of the page.

By T.A. Cannon



“Mixed methods prospective findings of the initial effects of the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic on individuals in recovery from substance use disorder.” By: Shircliff, Katherine, Liu, Melissa, Prestigiacomo, Christiana, Fry, Melissa, Ladd, Kevin, Gilbert, Misty Kannapel, Rattermann, Mary Jo, Cyders, Melissa A., PLoS ONE, 19326203, 7/1/2022, Vol. 17, Issue 7

Melamed O C, Hauck T S, Buckley L, Selby P, Mulsant B. H. COVID-19 and persons with substance use disorders: Inequities and mitigation strategies. Substance Abuse. 2020 Jul 22; 41(3), 286–291. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2020.1784363, 32697172