How Times of Crisis Make Addiction Worse

An addict suffering at home
Image: laflor / iStock by Getty Images

The United States is undergoing a serious health threat as a result of COVID-19. As the illness spreads, people who already struggle with health issues are at increased risk for harm. And people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are a group that is at particularly high risk. Getting addicts into treatment is crucial to prevent an increase in substance abuse and to prevent other, serious problems related to COVID-19 and addiction.

Increased Risk for Getting Sick

People who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction are put at further danger during a health pandemic mainly because people who use substances are more at risk for contracting illness. COVID-19 deaths have been primarily focused among those who are older, as well as those who have underlying health issues such as diabetes, cancer, and various respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

The problem is substance abuse assists in causing underlying health issues such as lung disease and cardiovascular disease. Addicts who smoke drugs (and lots of drugs such as crack cocaine, meth, heroin, marijuana, etc. can be smoked), are at increased risk for suffering COVID-caused health problems because their lungs are already weakened due to their drug use. People who have cardiovascular complications are also at increased risk, namely because their cardiovascular systems are hampered by their substance abuse.

Another point worth mentioning is the fact that drug and alcohol misuse weakens the immune system. Substance abuse erodes the body's natural defenses, making addicts more likely to become sick should they come into contact with germs, bacteria, pathogens, viruses, etc. So not only are addicts more likely to suffer badly should they catch COVID-19, but they are also simply more likely to catch it in the first place!

Another point to consider is that people who are already suffering from substance abuse are more likely to begin using more drugs and alcohol during a crisis. That, too, adds to the danger. There's plenty of historical precedents to back up the predictions that drug and alcohol abuse will soar during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar examples from the past include increased substance abuse in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and increased substance abuse in New York City after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Two Epidemics

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus crisis has worsened addiction for many, worsened their living condition, escalated their use, worsened their financial situation, etc. There's no doubt that addicts are more at risk of suffering physically as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, but there's also a fair amount of empirical data that suggest such individuals will face a large number of negative emotional, psychological, and behavioral factors too.

“People who suffer from addiction are particularly vulnerable to both catching the coronavirus and having a more severe disease when they do catch it…”
An alcoholic is shopping at store in a mask at the liquor section
Image: coldsnowstorm / iStock by Getty Images

According to Dr. Peter Grinspoon, who wrote about the added risk for addicts during the COVID-19 epidemic: “People who suffer from addiction are particularly vulnerable to both catching the coronavirus and having a more severe disease when they do catch it. There are many reasons for this, but they boil down to something called social determinants of health, which according to the CDC are ‘conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play [which] affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.’ In short, people suffering from addiction are vastly more vulnerable to coronavirus, as they are more likely to be homeless, poor, smokers with lung or cardiovascular disease, under- or uninsured, or have experienced serious health and socioeconomic issues from drug addiction.”

Dr. Grinspoon's summary drives the point home. He went on to discuss how addicts are more likely to have difficulty finding treatment during COVID-19, partly because of massive, statewide disruptions caused by the health crisis. Furthermore, addicts are more likely to be socially isolated during COVID-19, which increases the likelihood of fatal overdoses. If an addict overdoses alone, he is far more likely to die from such an event than if there are others around.

Increased risk for getting sick, increased risk for overdose, coupled with decreased access to treatment are all further exacerbated by massive societal disruption and economic hardship. All of that combined does not bode well for the approximately 19.7 million people in the United States who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

That’s why, now more than ever, it is vital that addicts seek help.

The Importance of Seeking Help

As the coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on the nation as a whole, individuals and families all across America have experienced a great deal of stress and hardship. If there’s one thing that the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it's that day-to-day life can change very rapidly. Aspects of life that seemed stable, reliable, consistent, and ever-present can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

It would be wise to clearly observe just how rapidly COVID-19 has changed things and how it has worsened the addiction crisis in America. People who already struggled with substance abuse behavior have begun to drink and use drugs far more often in an effort to cope with the added stress of a nationwide health crisis. That escalation in substance abuse has created more risk, more chances that addicts will suffer a fatal injury or an overdose as a result of their increased use.

Narconon Ojai
The Narconon Program New Life Detoxification

Narconon exists as a means by which addicts and their families can effectively end the vicious cycle of addiction. At Narconon, there is no consideration that addicts are addicts for life. Yes, addiction is horrible. It's very difficult to break free from. And nationwide crisis-level events such as COVID-19 worsen addiction. But even with all of that, Narconon believes that addicts can get better.

From its Drug-free Withdrawal to New Life Detoxification, Objectives, and Life Skills, Narconon offers a path to freedom from addiction that is unique. For over 50 years, Narconon has helped thousands of addicts break free from addiction for life.

If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, please contact Narconon today. If you’ve seen them struggle even more because of the coronavirus pandemic, please contact Narconon as soon as possible. As we’ve seen, ordinary life can change very quickly. Let’s get your loved one help before it’s too late.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.