In early March 2021, Texas somewhat controversially removed virtually all coronavirus restrictions that have been in place since the previous year. While the wisdom of this decision remains to be seen, we may see a drop in substance misuse and relapses as people with drug and alcohol use disorders are more freely able to access the care they need.
The coronavirus pandemic has not been easy on anyone, least of all for Americans who have experienced the most catastrophic COVID death rates in the world. With healthcare infrastructure overloaded by the virus, continuing care for people with substance use disorders has had to take a back seat all over the country, including in North Texas. Then a deadly surge of overdoses followed.
While it wasn’t initially clear just how much of an effect the coronavirus would have had on individuals with substance use disorders, drug rehab centers in Dallas have reported a massive uptick in relapses, as individuals started to feel isolated in lockdown, separated from the close support networks and therapeutic interventions that kept them clean.
Unfortunately, people with substance use disorder can be more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. People who regularly smoke methamphetamines, for instance, tend to have compromised immune systems and damaged respiratory systems that make them more likely to contract and die from COVID-19. They may also need to leave their homes more often for treatment, which further increases their risks.
Many residential treatment centers in Dallas had problems with coronavirus outbreaks, given the proximity of the patients and staff. A few had to prematurely end programs for patients or make rapid readjustments. Most outpatient one-on-one and group counseling sessions had to either be postponed indefinitely or moved online, a solution that has ironically contributed to bouts of anxiety that can lead to more drug use.
Unfortunately, despite an admirable effort from Dallas healthcare workers, overdoses have sharply increased in North Texas since the lockdowns began. Opioid relapses also increased dramatically in Dallas, as a combination of a lack of access to healthcare and the psychological effects of the lockdowns and the coronavirus itself started to take a toll. A study released in December 2020 also found a strong relationship between longer lockdown times and binge drinking. Likely, the patterns are mostly the same across all types of commonly abused substances
Many patients that needed critical continuing care also had problems finding the medication and therapy they needed. This problem was most acute among people with opioid use disorders. Before the pandemic hit, federal guidelines mandated that patients needing medication for opioid substitution therapy had to report to clinics six days a week for the first 90 days. As the coronavirus rapidly spread throughout the US, this became all but impossible for many Americans to comply with.
To make matters worse, the aggregate effects of COVID made already pricey substance rehabilitation more expensive, putting needed care out of the reach of many people who needed it the most.
As multiple studies have demonstrated, trauma can be a major predictor of subsequent drug misuse. During the early part of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, it was estimated that about half of all Americans were experiencing some kind of psychological trauma related to the event.
The fear and uncertainty over the future have doubtlessly contributed to substance misuse in Dallas and the rest of the country. It’s been established that stress directly contributes to people misusing drugs and alcohol. In other words, the events of 2020 may presage a more serious long-term substance use crisis.
Grief, however, was one emotion that not all people realized they were experiencing at the beginning. The loss of routines and incomes had not been experienced in such a profound way in the United States since perhaps the Great Depression. The loss of basic freedoms is completely unfamiliar to most people alive today.
And while we have all mostly settled into a routine, what we know about trauma and brain plasticity suggests that the effects of that first phase of the pandemic will linger for the rest of some people’s lives. This would be more likely if they experienced the pandemic directly in some way, such as a loss in their family or losing one’s source of income.
Survivors of substance use disorders may feel these types of losses more acutely and immediately, especially if they were still in the early stages of healing when the pandemic struck. With group support being such a vital part of long-term recovery for many, the inability to access critical therapy or spend time with others who could relate to one’s experiences can be devastating.
Now that effective vaccines are becoming more available and with signs that herd immunity is finally happening, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. The recent lifting of COVID restrictions in Texas may also provide more treatment and rehabilitation opportunities for Dallasites that need it the most, though likely with some tradeoffs.
Staying clean and sober may be less of a problem as COVID starts to become more controlled. Even today, there are more substance rehab options become available in Dallas than there were during the middle of the pandemic.
However, that doesn’t mean that things are going to be the way they were before. If you or someone you’re close to has had problems finding adequate care for substance use issues during the pandemic, our team at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers is ready to help you find the kind of support you need.