Pandemic Addiction Covid-19 Header

Updated: 21 August 2021
Reading Time: 5 Minutes

The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the lives of people all around the world. From restrictions and vaccinations, to daily news briefings, society is now faced with a different and evolving reality which can be challenging for even the most ‘well-adjusted’ person. For people suffering with addiction, the struggles of ongoing lockdowns and uncertainty due to a worldwide pandemic may be even more problematic. 

Addiction vs Connection

Many people in recovery circles have heard and used the phrase “connection is the opposite to addiction”. Humans are social creatures and most of us need interaction with others to thrive. It’s no surprise, then, that the treatment for addiction is rarely done in isolation. Whether it’s 12-step fellowships, group therapy or drug and alcohol rehab, most addiction treatment programs rely on connection, community and structure. 

Lockdowns and restrictions, brought on by the worldwide pandemic, have certainly impacted people’s ability to connect in conventional ways. Depending on a person’s living arrangements, being locked down at home could be an incredibly lonely experience. So how could this change to the way we live impact drug and alcohol use and addiction in Australia? 

Pandemic Effects on Drug and Alcohol Use

According to a report written by The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “no clear patterns of the effects of COVID-19 restrictions on alcohol and other drug consumption have emerged”, however individual data does point to increased usage of certain drugs during the pandemic. 

The below extract from an AIHW infographic compares the presence of drugs and alcohol in wastewater between August 2019 and August 2020. Whilst alcohol and methamphetamine use seems to have decreased over the course of that year, consumption of all other drugs has been on the rise.

Rehab Melbourne Drug Use Statistics


Looking at more recent data from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s website we can see that, in most cases, these trends have continued. According to Report 13 published on the 30th of June 2021: 

  1. Alcohol consumption has stayed relatively consistent since August 2020
  2. Cannabis use has reduced slightly but still remains higher than the previous year
  3. Methamphetamine has increased steadily since August but usage is still lower than the previous year
  4. Cocaine consumption continued to increase through 2020 with levels much higher than the previous year, however the number dropped again during the February reporting period
  5. MDMA fell below 2019 levels during the later months in 2020 and now has lower consumption than the pre-pandemic average
  6. Heroin leveled out after August 2020 and is now sitting below 2019 numbers



These fluctuating numbers may support a well established view in the drug and alcohol treatment community that people will usually substitute their drug of choice with another in times of need. As certain drugs become harder to get due to border restrictions, for example, users may switch to another. Or if a person can’t socialise in their usual way, they may resort to a drug that’s more prone to using in isolation. 

Addiction Treatment in a Pandemic and Waiting Lists

Drug and alcohol use isn’t the only thing impacted by restrictions and lockdowns. Options available to those who want or need treatment are affected as well. With international borders closed and domestic border statuses fluctuating from month to month, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to travel for treatment. 

For people seeking access to the public system this can be increasingly problematic as the next available bed may be in a different state. Where it was once possible for someone seeking rehab to jump on a plane and head interstate for treatment, the pandemic has significantly impacted that process. 

Social distancing restrictions have further contributed to the shortage of beds, reducing the capacity of some public facilities around Victoria. According to this ABC article, waiting lists have blown out since the pandemic started with some public rehabs reducing their capacity by 40 to 50%. 

Some smaller private rehabs have been faced with similar challenges due to the sharing of bedrooms and bathrooms. Generally, rehabs where residents get their own room have been less impacted by capacity restrictions during the pandemic.

How To Cope In Lockdown

During the pandemic, it’s important to stay connected to important people in your life. Thanks to modern technology, it’s never been easier to keep in touch. 

  1. Access 12-step meetings online via Zoom. Check the NA Victoria and AA Victoria websites for updated meeting lists with links to zoom meetings. 
  2. Make daily calls or video chats to your family and recovery circle. Write a list of people who you know you can talk to about your struggles and achievements and call one each day. 
  3. Join healthy social media communities. There are various groups on Facebook and Reddit that are geared to those in recovery. Join these groups and share your experience. 
  4. Keep a journal and write down how you’re feeling each day. You can then reflect on your progress throughout the lockdown and see how your reaction to your situation may have improved over time. 
  5. Be kind to yourself. This is the most important thing. Lockdowns and pandemics are stressful situations. Many of us don’t operate well under stress. If we do or say the wrong thing on occasion, we can take comfort knowing that stress may be the cause. Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself if you make mistakes. 


Where To Go For Help Immediately 

The pandemic has far reaching impacts. Many people have struggled to cope with isolation and restrictions on their movements. There are options available for people struggling with their substance use during lockdowns. Direct Line offers a free drug and alcohol counselling and referral service, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them if you need someone to talk to. 

If you’ve struggled with the idea of going into rehab in the past due to the impact it may have on your work schedule, the pandemic may provide a great opportunity to utilise the time away from work for your treatment. 

If a private rehab with limited beds sounds like something you’re considering, get in touch with the friendly team at Refocus for a free assessment. 


Written by Andrew B


Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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