How Has COVID Affected Mental Health and Substance Abuse?

COVID Has Dramatically Increased Rates of Overdoses in the United States 

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared an opioid epidemic in the United States. Rates of opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose continually climbed until 2018, when they became more than partly responsible for the greatest amount of drug overdoses in a recorded year. In 2019, the amount of drug overdose deaths in the country was 70,630. What shocked even the most seasoned professionals was the number of drug overdose deaths that were tallied up in 2020 — the year of COVID.

Recent reports show that a whopping 93,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2020 alone, even more fatal overdoses in Alabama jumped 27 percent. That is approximately 13,000 more people in the United States that lost their lives than in 2019. A jump that large has never been seen in modern times or in relation to drug overdoses before. So, what does this unprecedented increase in drug overdose deaths tell us about the connection between drug abuse and COVID-19? For starters, it tells us that getting help for a substance abuse problem was especially challenging, if not impossible, for those who needed it during 2020. Considering the lockdowns nearly every city and town across the nation faced, people were unable to check into residential treatment programs, participate in outpatient programs, get detox services, see therapists, and so on. In an honest effort to help mitigate a deadly virus, people who may have not lost their lives to the disease of addiction did as a result. 

COVID-19 and Substance Abuse

What also needs to be considered outside of the inability to obtain professional treatment is the social withdrawal that plagued so many people. Instead of being able to go out to dinner, see friends, take trips, or engage in almost any other regular activity hindered others’ ability to recognize signs and symptoms of substance abuse in their loved ones. This easily allowed thousands of substance use disorders to fly under the radar, either completely or mostly unnoticed, as their usual support system was not available to offer help. 

Substance abuse, whether it is triggered by a global pandemic or not, is able to thrive in a person who is not mentally well. It is no secret that millions of people in the United States grappled with mental health conditions that were going undiagnosed or untreated due to inability to connect with their providers. Studies show that nearly 50% of all individuals with a substance use disorder also have a mental health condition, making it easier to understand why these individuals may have turned more to substances to self-medicate their symptoms of related mental health issues. 

Morbidity, Mortality, and Mitigation Practices Cited as Top Challenges to Mental Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic since the outbreak began, report that communities nationwide experienced reduced mental health in 2020. The three primary reasons cited include morbidity, mortality, and mitigation practices — some of the very activities that were literally designed to keep the public safe. Unfortunately, in the time of COVID, everything is a clinical trial, including how to manage mental health in the midst of a pandemic. 


Simply put, morbidity directly relates to the rate of a disease within a population. So, during 2020, Americans and the rest of the world continued to watch rising COVID-19 cases emerge. By December of that year, more than 250,000 Americans were testing positive for COVID-19 each day and a gut-wrenching 4,000+ Americans were dying every 24 hours. The sheer amount of disease that engulfed the world was impossible to ignore, because it was happening everywhere. Knowing that simply going to the grocery store to pick up some milk and bread could result in potentially severe health consequences was more than most could bear. The stress of being surrounded by disease attributed, according to the CDC, to reduced mental health across the board.


Even though the United States and the rest of the world are still not free and clear of COVID-19, there is a sense that the situation is becoming easier to live with. Throughout 2020, we as a nation watched thousands of people die every single day. We all saw first responders holding up ipads and cell phones so that their patients could say goodbye to their loved ones. That amount of mortality on a daily basis is enough to impact one’s mental health in several negative ways. This includes not only those who were already grappling with symptoms of a mental health condition, but also those who developed symptoms of mental health condition in the wake of death around them. 

Mitigation Practices

Wash your hands. Keep 6ft distance from others. Mask up. Stay home. All of these mitigation practices (plus many more) are practices that have undoubtedly saved the lives of countless individuals throughout the country and the world. But, they also created several problems. 

Take social distancing for example. Families went months and even more than a year away from one another in an effort to prevent spreading the virus. Friendships faded or became strained due to not being able to see one another. Even just not being able to talk to a neighbor or make contact with individuals within the community took a toll on all. Lack of socialization can lead to many mental health conditions, including depression. And, when everyone was told to start going back to normal life in 2021, plenty of people experienced social anxiety after spending a year distanced from others. 

Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) saw their symptoms grow worse, especially those with a fixation on germs. Individuals with autoimmune issues feared for their wellbeing on a level much different than the average healthy person. Rates of suicide increased, as people lost their jobs, got divorced, lost a loved one, and so on. The darkest days of the pandemic may be behind us as a nation, but the lasting impacts on mental health and substance use disorders still remains.

Drug Rehab and Mental Health Treatment in Alabama

If you are struggling with the physical, mental, and emotional impacts of COVID-19, know that you are certainly not alone. At Birmingham Recovery Center, we can help you cope with the trauma this pandemic has brought so that you can begin taking back control of your life once and for all. If you are ready to take the next step in your recovery, call Birmingham Recovery Center right now at (205) 813-7400 for a free consultation and assessment.


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