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How COVID-19 Has Impacted the Addiction Treatment Industry

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COVID-19 has shaken the U.S. in many ways. Nearly every aspect of life in the country has been affected by this world-wide pandemic. For many Americans, the stress of loved ones getting sick, economic downturns, a loss of access to childcare, and unemployment, are just a few of the stressors that seem to be piling up. For people with substance use disorders, these stressors can increase their vulnerability to relapse and other mental health issues. Learn about the challenges people in recovery have faced as the virus has disrupted life all over the country and how the addiction treatment industry is responding to COVID-19.

The Impact on Healthcare

The healthcare system in America has had to adapt to COVID-19 quickly. As cases rose rapidly through the spring and summer months, the healthcare system had to find ways to treat a surge in patients, on top of their regular caseloads. Different states experienced case spikes at different times, depending on a variety of factors. Besides the influx of sick people, healthcare professionals have worked hard to adapt to new information to increase the quality of care for COVID-19 patients. There are no standard procedures in dealing with a brand new virus, and as researchers learn more, healthcare workers have to change tactics to use new information. 

The virus has put a tremendous strain on the healthcare system, and all over the country, medical workers have gone above and beyond their normal duties to respond to this health emergency. Even now, researchers and medical professionals are talking about getting a vaccine out to people as early as next year. The process of creating a vaccine is one that usually takes years, and there may be one for COVID-19 in mid-2021.

Though the healthcare professionals on the front lines have shown amazing resolve in the face of a crisis, the healthcare system is still under heavy strain. And that can be frustrating and even dangerous for people that need immediate access to healthcare on a regular basis. People with substance use disorders often require quick access to medical care, especially if they’re in active addiction. 

Someone currently struggling with active addiction may be vulnerable to overdose, infectious diseases, and other health problems that may need immediate care. People with histories of substance use problems may already have trouble getting access to healthcare. As the system experiences burdens related to COVID-19, it may make it even more difficult for an addicted person to get help. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, also recommends that treatment should be readily available for people that need it. Ideally, a person that has decided to seek addiction treatment should be able to get into a program within 24 hours. However, since COVID has burdened healthcare systems and made travel riskier, this can add to the barriers to treatment that people with SUDs experience. 

Economic Factors

Managing the spread of the coronavirus along with the economic impact the virus has on the country is a tightrope walk. There is much debate as to the right time to open up cities, counties, and states from quarantine. It’s clear that public health and economic factors are complex issues and the virus is forcing many leaders to consider these tough decisions. Either way, the virus has already had a significant impact on the U.S. economy. The unemployment rate went from record lows around 3.8 percent in February to 13 percent in May, largely due to the impact of the virus. 

It’s estimated that as much as 78 percent of workers in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck, which means they don’t have many options when it comes to dealing with sudden, lengthy unemployment or unexpected expenses. The economic downturn the virus has caused has put a tremendous strain on the finances of millions of Americans. These added stressors can be a burden to mental health. Death rates due to substance misuse and suicide are often connected with economic factors. A 2017 review found that studies support the idea that drug use increases during times of economic downturns. This could be because people may turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping response to financial stress. 

The Pros and Cons of Self-Isolation

Social distancing and self-isolation are effective when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19the coronavirus. Since the virus is likely spread through water droplets from person to person, staying away from other people can dramatically reduce your risk of getting the virus. However, self-isolation can make it so you experience fewer social interactions, which can be important to your overall mental health. Isolation from friends, family, and people, in general, can lead to depression, anxiety, and the worsening of existing issues. 

People with substance use disorders may have an even more dire need for social connection. Forming social bonds and increasing your support system in recovery, maybe one key to lasting recovery. Addiction treatment often has therapy options like group therapy, that are designed to strengthen social skills and help you form connections with other people. The isolation that has come with COVID-19 may make people in recovery vulnerable to relapse and other mental health issues. 

However, the use of things like video calling and other virtual tools that can keep people connected can help mitigate the feeling of social isolation. It also highlights the importance of reaching out to people with these tools. If you are in recovery, it’s important to have regular opportunities to talk with other people in your support system. 

How the Addiction Treatment Industry is Responding

Though the virus has made it so that it’s safer for many people to self-isolate and avoid unnecessary trips to public places, many people still need access to addiction treatment. Treatment should be readily available and immediately implemented for people that need it. Every day in active addiction is potentially dangerous. It dramatically increases your risk of an overdose, contracting a bloodborne disease, and being involved in criminal activity. That’s why many treatment centers aim to get people that seek treatment into care as soon as possible. 

Like many aspects of healthcare, the addiction treatment industry has had to adapt to COVID-19 in many ways. For instance, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has released infection control guidelines for patients that require residential treatment. These guidelines provide recommendations for dealing with both clients that test negative and positive for COVID-19. They also recommend quarantining new patients, distancing visitors, and maintaining facility cleanliness. These procedures can help people get treatment while mitigating the risk of contracting the virus. 

For patients that don’t require residential treatment, addiction treatment has already started to offer robust telemedicine options. Telemedicine involves the use of video and conference calling technologies to connect patients to healthcare. In addiction treatment, telemedicine can help midgate exposure to the virus, while connecting people to therapists and treatment opportunities. Telemedicine options have existed since before the spread of COVID-19, but the virus has made it even more widespread and essential. 

Telemedicine can also offer other benefits too. It removed barriers to treatment like transportation and costs associated with needing to be nearby an outpatient treatment facility. That means it can dramatically expand the reach of treatment options to people that may otherwise have trouble accessing care. It also opens up treatment to people that are high-risk when it comes to contracting the coronavirus. For instance, many people in recovery are smokers that may have lungs that are vulnerable to respiratory infections. 

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2019, May). The Risks of Social Isolation. from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation

ASAM. (2020, September). American Society of Addiction Medicine. from https://www.asam.org/Quality-Science/covid-19-coronavirus/infection-mitigation-in-residential-treatment-facilities

Friedman, Z. (2019, January 11). 78% Of Workers Live Paycheck To Paycheck. from https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2019/01/11/live-paycheck-to-paycheck-government-shutdown/

Kochhar, R. (2020, August 26). Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession. from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/11/unemployment-rose-higher-in-three-months-of-covid-19-than-it-did-in-two-years-of-the-great-recession/

Kommenda, N., & Hulley-Jones, F. (2020, October 7). Covid vaccine tracker: When will a coronavirus vaccine be ready? from https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2020/oct/07/covid-vaccine-tracker-when-will-a-coronavirus-vaccine-be-ready

Nagelhout GE;Hummel K;de Goeij MCM;de Vries H;Kaner E;Lemmens P;. (2017, April 25). How economic recessions and unemployment affect illegal drug use: A systematic realist literature review. from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28454010/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, September 18). Principles of Effective Treatment. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

Weiss, R. (2015, September 30). The Opposite of Addiction is Connection. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-and-sex-in-the-digital-age/201509/the-opposite-addiction-is-connection

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