It’s like problems never end for people with substance problems as the COVID-19 pandemic has seen rates of substance abuse, addiction, and relapse have increased. Due to the widespread shutdowns and social distancing measures implemented all over the world, people with substance abuse problems have been made particularly vulnerable.

Stress and anxiety are known effects of prolonged social isolation and restriction, thus making people more inclined to use substances to cope. This can lead to addiction and abuse, as well as relapse for those who’ve sought treatment for past issues.

Not only do the risks in themselves hurt physical and mental health, but it can also compromise the immune system, which makes the body more susceptible to the virus and the potentially fatal effects of COVID-19. Therefore, it’s important to address the problem right away, especially in the midst of these unprecedented times.

Increase in Substance Abuse and Relapses During COVID-19 Pandemic

With people getting stressed and anxious inside their homes, many of them are turning to drugs and alcohol for relief and comfort. It’s not true for everyone, but those with a history of substance use and/or abuse are more likely to lean on them as a coping mechanism.

According to some statistics, millennials are leaning more towards alcohol with 25% stating that they’ve been drinking more while 16% stating they’ve been drinking less. While that’s only 25%, it’s safe to assume that much of that 25% is composed of people who already have issues with their drinking habits. They’re likely drinking alone, or even day-drinking.

As for drugs, 36% of Americans admit to consuming more prescription opioids and cannabis during social isolation. The former is especially dangerous as the person with a problematic dependence on opioids may start taking higher doses and increase the risk of overdosing.

Those who have not gone to a treatment facility before will have to do so when they can, preferably when the pandemic ends. This is especially important for people with previous cases of substance abuse who are at a greater risk of relapsing during this pandemic.

Why Relapses Are Going Up During COVID-19 Pandemic

Many factors can exacerbate the likelihood of a relapse, which are heightened by the desperation and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. Heightened stress and anxiety can contribute to cravings for drugs and alcohol, especially in people who have a history of substance addiction and abuse.

The big contributing factors during the pandemic have been the economic downturn, unemployment, and the resulting financial stress. Since most businesses are doing worse, some of them have had to either let go or furlough their employees, and some even had to close down entirely. This makes paying the bills a tough for a lot of people, who may turn to substances to deal with it.

Some families may have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Since COVID-19 patients tend to be completely quarantined and isolated, their families don’t even get to be at their side, even when they unfortunately expire. Those who die from COVID-19 tend to be summarily cremated as per health and safety procedures, which makes the loss a lot tougher for families.

Such grief can be understandably heavy, especially since those families don’t get to bid a proper farewell to their late loved ones. As for those who do survive and recover from the disease, they have to experience further isolation to clear them of the virus, and the resulting trauma from that severe bout of illness may also result in.

Some who may be at risk of turning to substances can be affected by the mere loneliness and boredom from social isolation. With not much to do for days at a time, they may turn to substances to pass the time and temporarily uplift their spirits. This can also result in substance abuse and addiction.

Finally, particularly for people with prior history of substance abuse, they may relapse due to having little to no access to treatment and support. While some treatment facilities are now offering telehealth remote consultation and therapy, that may not be enough to really put them on track towards recovery.

How to Help People With Substance Abuse Problems During the Pandemic

The most important thing when it comes to tackling substance addiction and abuse issues is proper education. It’s important to emphasize that this is a health problem, not a moral problem. There are many reasons why people turn to alcohol or drugs, and the stigma of it being a moral failing does not help with the problem at all.

If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling with such a problem, the best thing you can do is to make them understand that you care about them and that you’re there to help them, not judge them. You then remind them (gently, not forcefully) that they may need help and hope your message gets to them.

The first step towards recovery is having them admit that they have a problem and they need help. You can make it easier by showing them that there’s nothing to be ashamed of by admitting to having a problem and asking for help. Once they’re able to cross that bridge, you can then help more by holding them accountable.

As they’re going through their recovery process, you can make sure they stay on track by leading them away from people who may be encouraging their substance abuse. Do what you can to keep them away from those people and lead them towards people who will be better influences on them. Someone can be undergoing treatment, but then relapse because of a fellow individual with substance abuse problems.


Due to the myriad of factors at play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has certainly been an increase in relapses. While businesses are starting to open back up, plenty of people have experienced negative mental health effects, possibly in the long term. As they start adjusting back to normalcy, these effects may play a factor in how they get back to regular daily life.

Those relapses may continue for the next several months, even once the pandemic is over. The hope is that once treatment centers are fully open once again, those people will be able to get the help they need. However, it’s one thing to have help available, but it’s another thing to convince those people to ask for that help in the first place.

The sooner people get help for their substance addiction and abuse problems, the better their recovery will be. If you have a loved one who has such a condition, guide them towards availing professional assistance in order to lessen the negative effects.