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How Social Isolation Can Lead to Substance Abuse
Oh what a lonely year it has been. You know you are in trouble when the only voice you hear is your own. During the pandemic we have truly felt alone. From the isolation came mental health issues… and that has lead to an increase in substance abuse.
Whether it is from feeling lonely to just being bored, the year of COVID-19 has resulted in a spike of substance use disorders and overdoses. Some people who were in recovery found themselves relapsing. Others who never abused a substance before found themselves self-medicating. Binge drinking killed boredom. In all, the lockdowns have taken a heavy toll on people, and substance abuse has been the result.
The Effects of Isolation on Mental Health
The lockdowns and social distance measures have led to intense feelings of isolation. Science has studied the effects of isolation on our mental and physical health. The results have confirmed that social isolation is not good for us. Some of the effects of social isolation include:
- Depression. Being isolated and lonely can trigger depressive disorder, and also put someone at increased risk for suicide. Depression can also trigger substance abuse as a means to numb the symptoms.
- Anxiety. Some types of anxiety can cause someone to withdraw, including social anxiety, panic disorder, and PTSD. On the other hand, feeling lonely can cause symptoms of anxiety, such as fear and worry.
- Cognitive decline. For older adults, being isolated and lonely can speed cognitive decline. The effects of this can further prevent these people from being social.
- Psychosis. Severe symptoms from long-term social isolation may include hallucinations and delusional thoughts.
- Physical health. Living a solitary life is a known health risk for heart disease. Also, one meta-study found a 32% increase in stroke risk among people with poor social relationships.
- Sleep deprivation. People who are socially isolated tend to have poor sleep quality. They report more restless sleep and insomnia. That leads to fatigue, mood swings, poor concentration, and being irritable.
Symptoms of Depression During COVID-19
People are grieving their old lives. They are sick of feeling so alone and lonely. Many are now struggling with depression as a result of the Covid fallout. Symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness and despair.
- Cognitive problems
- Changes in eating habits.
- Slowed movements
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Feelings of shame or guilt.
- Loss of interest
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
Symptoms of Anxiety During COVID-19
People have been fearful for many, many months. Some have lost their jobs and face major money problems. Some have seen loved ones suffer with the virus. Some have feared getting Covid themselves. Anxiety has truly taken hold during the last year. Some common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Intense and irrational fear.
- Tense muscles.
- Insomnia or other sleep problems.
- Stomach distress.
- Feeling dizzy.
- Racing heart
- Increased blood pressure.
- Shallow breathing.
Lockdowns and Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol seems to be the cheapest and most easily obtained substance of choice during the lockdowns. A marked increase in sales of alcohol began last April, right when the lockdowns started. Anxiety often inspires drinking, states a recent survey out of USF St. Petersburg.
The author, Lindseay Rodriguez notes stress factors that seemed to increase drinking during the lockdown. The include health concerns, money issues, and social isolation. Alcohol, just as drugs or other unhealthy habits, is often used as to distract from emotions these stressors can cause.
For some, when it comes to isolation and addiction binge drinking has become the answer to their problems. Alcohol is well known as a substance used numbing negative feelings. It comes as no surprise that drinking levels have risen during the lockdown. Binge drinking, involves drinking more alcohol that can be safely handled by the body. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more drinks for males, or 4 or more drinks among women.
5 Alternatives to Substance Use During COVID-19
People seeking to de-stress during the Covid era can choose substance-free lifestyle choices instead of leaning on a substance:
- Exercise. Nothing calms your nerves and lifts you mood as well as exercise. Being active causes the ‘feel good’ brain chemicals to be released. Try aim for 20-30 minutes of activity to daily.
- Holistic. Learn how to relax to reduce feelings of stress or anxiety. Some options include online yoga classes and guided meditation apps that help you achieve a calm state.
- Stay busy. Work is a great way to reduce stress and to distract from feeling so alone. Find some home projects to tackle while we are going through COVID-19. Staying busy gives you a peaceful sense of accomplishment.
- Hobbies. Boredom is another state that people seek to escape through substance use. To lessen boredom and avoid using a substance during the lockdown, take up a hobby or explore new interests.
- Sober living. If you are in recovery and find yourself in danger of a relapse, try living for awhile in sober housing. Sober living offers a substance-free home setting that supports recovery.
If you see the signs and symptoms of a substance problem in yourself, do not wait to get the help you need. The sooner you address the problem and get treatment, the better off you will be once the COVID-19 nightmare is over.
Capo by the Sea is an Upscale Rehab in Orange County
Capo by the Sea offers the full spectrum of treatment and support for overcoming a substance use disorder. It also provides dual diagnosis treatment for a co-occurring mental health disorder. If you are struggling with substance use or mental health issues during COVID-19, reach out to our team for help today. Call us at (888) 529-2114.