The pandemic has left countless Americans in situations where drugs and alcohol became a method to cope. Professionals working within the treatment industry are fearing the increase in substance abuse issues once the government lockdowns have passed completely. History as always shown that anytime there is a traumatic incident, people fall back on maladaptive behaviors.

Surging alcohol and marijuana sales and a lack of access to traditional support networks was a clear sign the issues may become worse. When facing a crisis, it is not uncommon to turn to various substances to deal with the stresses and emotions. Typically, the average American has a healthy outlet they use to manage these feelings, but government lockdown has prevented this.  

The government overreach in some states was far stricter than others, leaving most people to hunker down at home. The Mental Health American Screening Program reported they saw a 70% increase in the number of people screening for anxiety and a 64% increase in the number of people screening for depression.

Unfortunately, these issues often lead to prescription drugs, which then creates future dependence, misuse and addiction. The Federal Drug Administration placed Zoloft on its shortage list, noting there was an inability to fill the demand. Overall, prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication rose 10.2% and a 9.2% increase in antidepressant medication, per health-research firm IQVIA Holdings Inc.

Many states have seen an increase in alcohol sales, which began in March with a 55% increase, according to Nielson research. The state of Washington and Oregon saw sharp sales increases for cannabis driven by the demand from in-state residents rather than tourists.

Much of the data suggests marijuana consumption rose during the worst of the pandemic. Since March, adult-use cannabis sales in Washington state and Oregon have surged. It is often the legal substances that end up causing the most harm during a crisis. These substances are easily accessible but can do the most damage over the long-term when used to cope with stress. Opioids, for example, despite gradual declines in opioid-related deaths before the pandemic, many states reported an increase in opioid overdoses during the lockdown.

The list of factors that have contributed to the increase in substance abuse is long. Treatment providers across the nations should be prepared, and some are likely already seeing more people reaching out for help. However, the reality is that the average American will not ask for help and will allow the problem to fester and grow.

Alcohol and drugs affect everyone differently and are misused for different reasons. However, during the pandemic, most Americans had the same reason to start using or increase use. Unfortunately, recreational use, addiction and/or dependency sneak up on a person and slowly begin to take over.

The indicators are already there that more people are potentially struggling with substance abuse. Even if you had one thought that your drinking and or drug use was excessive during the lockdown, talk to someone about it. Part of getting back to normal is ensuring we are healthy physically and mentally. Substance abuse is not an issue you want consuming your life — the experts are right in saying there will be more substance abuse issues when all the dust settles.  

NICKOLAUS HAYES is a health care professional in the field of substance abuse and addiction recovery. He utilizes his experience in his writing to provide an expert viewpoint. His primary focus is spreading awareness by educating individuals on the topics surrounding substance abuse. He is a featured author of the health care website Addicted.org.

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