A Tale of Two Epidemics

The COVID-19 global pandemic has killed more than 100,000 individuals in the United States. Alcohol, opioids, other addictive substances, suicide, and domestic violence has also taken many lives, but without a live tracker, it is nearly impossible actually to find the exact number. 
 
Opioids are just as deadly as COVID-19, with approximately 450,000 lives lost to taking opioids between 1999 and 2017. In 2018 alone, there were 67,367 deaths involving opioids
 
There is one massive difference between COVID-19 and substance use disorders: data. With the click of a button and decent Wi-Fi connection, anyone can track the exact numbers, including the infection rate and the death toll for COVID-19. Several online dashboards are tracking the outbreak worldwide as well as here in the United States.
 
While our country is undergoing one of the most significant pandemics in modern history, known as COVID-19, we are also suffering from a lesser-known epidemic that has been ravaging our society for decades: substance abuse. Both of these pandemics are tightly intertwined as isolation often leads to alcohol and drug use, and isolation has been the direct consequence of COVID-19 as our country has been practicing social distancing over the past few months. 

Isolation and epidemics

Social distancing is required to prevent the spread of disease, especially when we are talking about COVID-19. Six feet of separation and face coverings are the new normal, and these guidelines do not seem to be going away anytime soon. Although isolation is preventing the spread of COVID-19 and is potentially saving lives, isolation can also wreak havoc on our mental health, driving us to feel anxious and depressed and using drugs and alcohol as unhealthy coping mechanisms. Loneliness has also been linked to our immune system’s inability to fight infection, making our bodies more susceptible to illnesses such as viruses and bacteria. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can increase the likelihood of chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, and death from heart disease. During this time, when social distancing is essential, we must find ways to come together and fight off feelings of isolation so we can fight against the other epidemic that is ravaging our mental health. As our country slowly begins to open up, we can use this time to come together with family and friends in small groups while still attending our virtual social hours, religious gatherings, and work meetings. We can still check on our friends, loved ones, and neighbors daily to make sure they are okay, both physically and mentally. While isolation is the second epidemic we are facing, we must be aware of the consequences and make active strides to come together so we can prevent any harmful physical or mental effects. 

Alcohol and COVID-19

The COVID-19 epidemic has increased alcohol sales across the United States. More people are at home, out of work, and are stressed, which can all factor into the increase in alcohol use and sales during this pandemic. Alcohol is a social lubricant that is often used to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary, or work promotion. Still, when used in excess or increased frequency, it an extremely addicting, resulting in both cravings and withdrawals. Alcohol use disorder can wreak havoc on the body, relationships, and brain. It can cause turmoil in your professional and social life, potentially leading to poor decisions and problems with the law. It is essential to reach out and talk to someone if you are struggling with dark thoughts and urges to use alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. Taking time to recognize your stressors, and voice your worries not only to yourself but also to others is a huge positive step in the right direction. 

The tales of these two epidemics: addiction and COVID-19 are ongoing and intertwined. However, one is in the spotlight, and the other one has been pushed aside. We need to continue to speak up, seek out help, and enter treatment to fight the addiction epidemic. 

Casa Palmera can help

At Casa Palmera, our goal is whole-person healing; we treat the whole person and not just the disorder. Our dedicated treatment team goes underneath the surface of a presenting problem to determine the underlying triggers and address the root so that it doesn’t manifest itself in other ways. Our goal is not to treat the wound with a Band-Aid but instead develop a permanent solution to problems that are preventing you from living your happiest and healthiest life. Our clinical staff works with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that includes therapy approaches for your specific needs, as well as tools that will improve your life on a holistic level. Learn more about Casa Palmera and see how Casa Palmera’s programs can help you transform your mind, body, and soul. 

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the vital world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.