9 Ways to Cope With Addiction After COVID-19

Coping with addiction after COVID

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

Substance use increased during the pandemic. According to a 2020 national survey, an estimated 25.9 million people had higher rates of alcohol consumption after COVID-19 than before and 10.9 million had increased drug use.

One potential consequence of increased substance use is the development of addiction or, if in recovery, addiction relapse. If you are finding it difficult to cope with a new or existing addiction after COVID-19, here are nine things you can do.

Recognize the Signs of Addiction and Relapse

One of the first steps to dealing with addiction post-COVID-19 is recognizing that an issue exists. Problematic use of drugs or alcohol can lead to a substance use disorder. The criteria for substance use disorder diagnosis include:

  • Building up a tolerance or needing more of a substance to get the desired effect
  • Having increased cravings or urges for the substance
  • Increased use of the substance, even though it results in issues at home, school, or work—or it negatively impacts your mental or physical health
  • Missing events or activities due to substance use
  • Wanting to stop or reduce your substance use, but not being able on your own
  • Withdrawal symptoms appear if you go without the substance for an extended period

If you've had problematic substance use in the past and have been in recovery, you may be concerned about relapse. Signs of drug and alcohol relapse include:

  • A change in your attitude or behavior
  • Less engagement socially
  • Your routine has become less structured, if not dropped altogether
  • Your withdrawal symptoms have returned

If you are experiencing any of these signs, it's possible that addiction or relapse exists. A mental health professional can conduct an evaluation and assessment to determine whether you meet the criteria for substance use disorder. This professional can also help create the best treatment and recovery plan for you.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Reach Out to Your Support Network

Your social network plays a role in how successful you are with overcoming substance use issues. If you feel like using more alcohol or drugs since COVID-19, reach out to family members and friends you can trust. Talk to them about how you're feeling and rely on their support as you work to navigate the post-pandemic world.

Consider including support groups and mental health therapists in your network as well. Others who are also facing addiction can be a good source of encouragement and motivation as you strive to abstain from substance use, while a mental therapist can provide the tools needed to better fight your urges and cravings.

Find Ways to Reduce Stress

When you're under high levels of stress—such as due to losing your job during the pandemic or experiencing health issues as a result of having COVID-19—your risk of substance misuse increases. This makes finding ways to reduce stress critical to coping with addiction after the pandemic.

Activities that can relieve stress include:

If you have a hobby that you enjoy, this is another great way to reduce the tension in your life. When you are doing something that you love, you become so focused on it that the stress is able to just slip away. Make it a point to reduce your stress regularly so it doesn't build up.

Research suggests that stress impacts addiction by disrupting certain areas of the brain involved in cravings and relapse, also limiting the brain's reward system through negative reinforcement.

Develop Healthy Sleep Habits

Sleep and addiction are connected in that sleep issues can increase substance use by increasing cravings and impulsivity, while substance misuse can reduce sleep duration and quality. This creates a vicious cycle in which one instigates the other.

One way to help break this cycle is to develop healthy sleep habits. This involves getting on a consistent sleep schedule, making your bedroom welcoming for sleep (such as by limiting light and reducing noise), and avoiding caffeine and electronics before going to bed.

Create and Follow a Routine

Routine and structure help support addiction recovery. Yet, this is one area in which COVID-19 created many barriers, some of which included canceled support group meetings, changes in employment, and a lack of access to regular social support.

If you're finding it difficult to get into a routine, sit down and create a schedule for the week. Decide to get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Also, plan your meals so you're eating around the same time from one day to the next.

In this schedule, include activities that help you abstain from drugs and alcohol. Develop a routine for attending regular support group meetings and sessions with your therapist. Add other actions that can further support your abstinence or recovery, such as working out or taking time to de-stress.

Set Personal Boundaries

When it feels like others are encroaching on your personal space, you may turn to substances in an attempt to escape. During COVID, many people faced physical boundary issues, particularly when movement was restricted due to orders to stay home.

Now that restrictions aren't so tight, it's a bit easier to set boundaries that allow for more personal space. Tell your loved ones when you want to spend time alone so you can recharge. It can also be helpful to establish boundaries in your relationships, such as by deciding what you will and won't tolerate, and standing firm on your decision.

Spend More Time Outdoors

Have you ever noticed that you feel better after going for a walk outdoors or sitting in the park? While this may seem like a coincidence, spending time in nature has been associated with better mood, reduced stress, improved cognition, and several other mental health benefits.

Since mental health issues and substance misuse often go hand in hand, finding ways to feel better mentally can help you get in a better mind space for working through substance use issues. It might also reduce your urge to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Make it a point to get outside regularly. Spend your work breaks walking around the block. Take your lunch to a local park and eat while surrounded by nature. You can get an extra dose of the outdoors on weekends, such as by hiking or spending a day at the beach.

Perform Acts of Self-Care

Some experts in the wellness space have called self-care "one of the most overlooked aspects of recovery." This is because people with addiction typically don't give themselves the care they need, resulting in negative emotions that they try to escape with drug or alcohol use.

By performing regular acts of self-care, you can relieve these emotions, thereby also relieving the need to escape. Mind-body relaxation is one way to care for yourself. Self-care also involves eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, and meeting your social needs.

Get Professional Help

Addiction is a complex issue that can be difficult to overcome without professional help. If you notice that you are using more alcohol or drugs since COVID-19 began, or that your urges to use are stronger, a mental health professional can provide the tools needed to fight these urges and abstain from problematic substance use.

When finding a therapist, look for someone that you feel comfortable opening up to. The more honest and transparent you are with what you are experiencing, the better their ability to find solutions that can help with your specific situation.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with problematic substance use isn't easy, whether as a result of COVID-19 or not. However, there are several things you can do to get you on your way to recovery. Taking actions such as these is just a start. Your mental health therapist can also provide solutions that are appropriate for your unique circumstances and needs.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kristen Fuller, MD
Kristen Fuller is a physician, a successful clinical mental health writer, and author. She specializes in addiction, substance abuse, and eating disorders.