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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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