How stay-at-home orders and social distancing is reshaping the pervasiveness of addiction

We have gotten an influx of calls and inquiries lately about people, family members and spouses asking if they or their loved one has an addiction, either to alcohol, drugs or medications. The rise in concern about addiction is a result of many factors, all of which have been provoked due to quarantine and “Stay-At-Home” orders. Here’s why.

Understanding Addiction

To conceptualize addiction, it’s important to understand what precedes it. Often, addiction (whether to food, alcohol, drugs or anything else) is typically adopted as a form of “coping mechanism”. This means that (often) the addict is compensating for an environment that’s imbalanced, or out of their control. This could be the result of stress, negative personal relationships, financial instability, diminished self-esteem, lack of control over life scenarios, and so on. Having a biological propensity toward addiction is another contributing factor. As the entire world struggles with a still yet unknown future, the likelihood of addiction has understandably skyrocketed.

The Routine Shift

People thrive on a routine and a personal schedule. It does more than just keep the days organized, it also keeps our brain functioning in a way that unconsciously relishes on order and discipline. Even for those who consider themselves “disorganized”, a semblance of routine maintains structure in our lives. It preserves order on our overall psyche.

With that said, as days turn into weeks at home, our personal schedules and routines have been completely uprooted. Without interventions like work, social gatherings or even shopping, we find ourselves lacking personal discipline. And this affects our eating and drinking habits, too. Perhaps you were an evening drinker. Without the need to go to work, drive or gather, a moderate drinker could easily turn into a daily or heavy user. Moderate usage leads to tolerance, thus initiating the dependency phase and the “cycle of addiction” begins.

Even for those of us who are experiencing a discernable spike in our daily usage or drinking, it will take some time to adhere to a new schedule – to work through the ups and downs of navigating a new routine that we feel we can control. It’s sort of like circumnavigating the chaos of a new job role. It will take some time to adhere to this new schedule before synergy is achieved.

Dependence on Display

While this scenario can turn up the dial of a moderate drinker, it can also exploit the sheer level of dependence one has on alcohol (or drugs) to begin with. Have you noticed yourself or a loved one reaching for a drink more often than normal? Do they find a reason or need to go for a beer or liquor run on a routine basis? Do you find yourself fixated on wanting to drink especially when you no longer have your drink of choice on hand? Postulate these same questions to the medication-dependent.

For the time being, bars aren’t open. People aren’t having “liquid lunch” together, and routine parties are on hold. A surreptitious pattern of addiction is emerging right in the homes of everyday Americans that has been lingering for years or decades, undiagnosed.

Quarantine: The Ultimate Instigator

As life shifts into uncharted territory for all, existing Issues are becoming inflated. The stressors that quarantine provoke are causing a lot of emotional unrest for all families. Perhaps you’re a parent who is now juggling your work-from-home job, home-schooling and other daily chores in addition to this new normal. Or, you and your family member are becoming more argumentative – short-fused at the slightest conversation or disagreement.

There is also the overarching “unknown” that is causing elevated stress, like the future of the job market, personal health concerns, the inability to do “normal” things and so on. Just the unknowns that lie ahead are extraordinarily difficult to comprehend in an otherwise regimented world.

Children and Families

Social changes that affect entire systems have a way of wreaking havoc on everyday families. Economy crashes, tragedies, and the like have shown to increase the probability of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, drug use and even suicide. If you are experiencing any of these, or know someone who is, we have more resources now than ever before to turn to in order to get the help you or a loved one needs.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Hotline: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Coping Is Common

Humans have a natural tendency to “cope” when their environment becomes out of control. This can be done in many ways, but drugs and alcohol tend to be the easiest to access. When our emotional core is triggered, it can feel natural to overeat, to look for a drink, to take an anti-anxiety pill or to sleep more. But when “stress using” becomes dependency, it’s critical to recognize that you need help.

There are excellent healthy coping mechanisms that you or a loved one can adopt, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises. You can also implement an active fitness routine, turn to reading, tune into a new podcast or start a hobby. Positive coping mechanisms, in fact, are the cure to our emotional unrest. Talk therapy with a friend, therapist or community, is also an excellent way to work through stress and anxiety. The overarching message is: we can’t do this on our own. However, without a learned “toolkit” to adopt these measures, many are turning to drugs and alcohol instead.

There Is A Solution

No one likes to admit that they have a problem, or a habit which negatively affects their body, interpersonal relationships and environment. And while the addict may not want to change their ways or accept help, now is a particularly pivotal time to help them get the help they need. Long after this crisis subsides, our personal daemons will still remain. Now, more than ever, may be the best time to accept the help you need.

Addiction is a precarious disease, unrelenting in nature. Quarantine is exploiting the deep dependency that we as a society have with drugs, alcohol and medication. It’s important to know that if you or your loved one is dealing with this now, they are not alone, and there are options for help.

Being able to turn to healthy coping mechanisms instead of drugs or alcohol is a powerful tool. But for the addict, it’s practically impossible to be able to do on one’s own. People have spent years or decades of their life trying to do this, only to fail without the help of a formal addiction treatment center, self-help group, fellowship community or personal therapy program.

Addiction Treatment Resources

If you are concerned that you have a drug or alcohol problem, or if you’re worried a loved one may be struggling, you can get the help you need from a local drug and alcohol treatment center. At Lumiere Treatment Centers of Ohio, we are working with families to help loved ones overcome addiction. For more about our treatment programs, like detox, inpatient treatment or outpatient care, please call us at 513-909-2225.