Substance Use During The COVID-19 Outbreak - Carson Tahoe Health

Stress and addiction often go hand-in-hand … but they don’t have to.

It’s easy to assume during the last few months, where COVID-19 has dominated our news, conversations, and really –  our lives, that you’ve experienced anxiety and additional stress. Whether that stress roots from work, home-schooling your children, general anxiety around the virus, or something else, it’s real, and it’s valid. These have been tough times.

Stress causes your body to release powerful neurochemicals and hormones, helping you respond to whatever is stressing you out. As a result, your blood sugar & blood pressure can rise, your heart may beat faster, or your muscles may tense.

We all have different ways of coping through these unfortunate “symptoms” of stress. Some eat more, some eat less, some cry and vent, some internalize their thoughts, and some may consume more alcohol & other potentially harmful substances. Stressful events, combined with poor coping skills can often lead to initiation, continuation, increase, or even relapsing the use of substances. Psychology Today supports the idea that there is a link between chronic stress and the motivation to use substances, including the desire to self-medicate and the likelihood of acting on impulse.

“With social distancing, the risk for relapse can be higher for some people in recovery because access to social support has been reduced or eliminated. If a relapse occurs, people might beat themselves up and feel like failures. A small yet highly useful skill that can help someone who has relapsed is called self-compassion,” says Cesar Reyes, Care Coordination Supervisor with Carson Tahoe Behavior Health Services. “In simple terms, self-compassion allows the person to be a friend to themselves instead of their enemy during stressful situations. When we make mistakes or when things don’t go as expected, we have a natural tendency to blame and criticize ourselves, which then leads to shame, guilt, and ultimately more stress.”

According to Scholastic, many believe drug abuse can be harmful, but also believe it relieves stress.
That is a myth. Some substances affect your brain the same way stress does. In fact, long-term drug abuse makes users more sensitive to everyday stress than non-users.

“If a relapse occurs or you are frustrated because you can’t find the right hobby during a quarantine, be kind to yourself,” says Reyes. “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you care about and ask for help. Relapse is not a sign of failure. It is a sign that we need to try something different.”

Tips for managing your substance use in stressful situations:

  • Accept the fact that there are certain events in your life you will not be able to control.
  • Find something else productive to soak up your time, maybe a new hobby, cooking more from home, the options are endless. What is that one thing you’ve been wanting to do, but you haven’t found the time or energy? Now’s your chance.
  • Seek out social support. Whether it’s reaching out to family, friends, coworkers, or even a stranger, sometimes finding a confidant, and someone you can trust to lift you up and keep you grounded is the best gift you could give to yourself.
  • Find proper treatment, if needed. Carson Tahoe Behavioral Health Services (BHS) offers individual & group counseling, as well as expertise in limiting substance use, and even managing crises related to substance use.

Here are several other healthy ways to manage stress.