Drug, alcohol addiction overshadowed by COVID-19 pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Alcohol and drug addiction remain critical public health issues, yet the national problem has receded into the background amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

In a May 30 interview with CSPAN, Dr. Caleb Alexander, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, discussed how the pandemic is affecting the addiction crisis. 

“Before the pandemic hit, we were in the midst of the worst overdose epidemic in our country’s history, losing more than 60,000 individuals a year from overdose. None of that changed … when the pandemic started,” Alexander, also a practicing internist, told CSPAN

It’s just as bad as ever, he said, and explained why the coronavirus is amplifying the current addiction landscape. 

Addicts are more susceptible to the virus because of factors associated with both COVID-19 and addiction. 

Drug and alcohol abusers tend to have a lower income, live in poorer neighborhoods or in homeless shelters. These factors are also linked with a COVID-19 infection, Alexander said.

Many addicts also have what are called comorbidities, meaning they also suffer from chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. People with chronic conditions are more susceptible to the coronavirus. 

Another component is the breaking down of our current health care system, which has been radically disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has “undercut the treatment system we rely on to provide care for the millions of Americans who suffer from…addiction.”

Self-isolation might also trigger a relapse or spur an addiction. 

In terms of recovery, addicts require face-to-face interaction with a close network of trusted friends and family. In-person support is more effective than digital-based support, according to a report published in Clinical Psychology Review. Social distancing makes this difficult when the world now relies on Skype, FaceTime or other digital platforms to stay connected. 

As of 2018, 14.4 million adults across the U.S. suffer from alcohol abuse disorder. Twenty-three million adults admit to struggling with drug abuse

In Indiana, 16.6% of adults report having a problem with binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as males having five or more drinks one on occasion. For females, it’s more than four drinks.

Thirteen percent of Hoosiers ages 18 and older admit to using opioids compared to the 11% national average. The average for heroin use in the same age group in Indiana is also higher than the national average.