Coping With Addiction After COVID-19

Coping with addiction after COVID

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

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

The year 2020 was one for the books as COVID ripped across the world resulting in death, illness, burnout, isolation, and economic turmoil. This year, 2021, thus far, has been a year of learning how to return back to life with a “new normal.”

Our world is still at the very beginning of the healing process as our economy is still broken, and many individuals are still struggling mentally and emotionally, but there does seem to be a new feeling of hope as we move forward.

Although there is a lot of excitement surrounding the re-opening of society since this global pandemic began, there are many people who are struggling to once again adapt to this “new normal"—particularly those who are coping with addiction, eating disorders, and other mental health conditions.

This article explains the high rates of addiction during the pandemic and why those dealing with addiction might find it difficult to reacclimate to a post-COVID world. Additionally, you'll learn how to tell if you might be showing signs of an addiction and how to cope.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders During COVID

Substance abuse and mental health disorders increased tremendously during COVID because of multiple factors including:

  • Stress
  • Isolation
  • Boredom
  • Domestic violence in the home
  • Restrictive access to mental health counseling and addiction treatment

The surge in mental health issues may remain untreated or undiagnosed as we move through this post-COVID era due to interrupted mental health services and other challenges for mental health and addiction services.

Potential for Relapse

As the world reopens, we may see a continued increase in new cases of addiction, eating disorders, and mental health disorders, as well as an increase in relapse rates as many people, try to adjust to this “new normal.”

This year can be stressful and even triggering for individuals who are struggling with an addiction, whether that is alcohol, illicit substances, or food.

As bars and restaurants reopen for indoor and outdoor dining and concerts and baseball games welcome back crowds, many individuals who struggle with an eating disorder or alcohol use disorder may be triggered by the availability of food and alcohol in social settings.

High-stress situations such as learning to adapt to new rules and guidelines, financial and economic instability, adapting to a new working environment, or the reality of still trying to get back into the workforce can lead to all types of addiction cravings. All of this duress can potentially trigger a relapse. 

Although there is still a lot of worries, unknowns, stress, and financial hardship, there has been a lot of conversations about mental health and addiction during this COVID period. Thankfully these conversations have led to tremendous awareness, which has helped lessen the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health, encouraging more people to seek treatment and share their experiences. 

If you find yourself struggling with cravings or triggers during this time of adjusting back to the “new normal,” know that you are not alone.

Whether you have a longstanding mental health diagnosis or have recently encountered addiction during this past year, it is important to be kind to yourself, as this adjustment period is challenging for everyone. 

How to Tell If You're Struggling With an Addiction

When it comes to mental health disorders, addictions, and eating disorders, it may seem that the writing is on the wall, meaning that others are fully aware you are struggling. However, oftentimes, we hide our emotions and habits until they become dangerous and out of control.

Below is a list of questions to ask yourself to determine if you are struggling or possibly dealing with an addiction:

  • Do you avoid social situations?
  • Have your sleep patterns changed tremendously?
  • Do you find yourself sleeping all day?
  • Do you feel the desire to drink or use drugs in order to deal with stress?
  • Do you find yourself becoming increasingly frustrated with other people?
  • Have you recently severed any relationships or friendships?
  • Are you becoming more irritable or anxious?
  • Are you engaging in self-harm behaviors such as cutting?
  • Do you think about food, dieting, and weight all the time?
  • Are you constantly on a diet?
  • Do you think you are overweight when you look in the mirror?
  • Do you have an intense fear of gaining weight?
  • Do you measure or weigh your food?
  • Do you avoid certain food types out of a fear of weight gain?
  • Are you jealous of other people because they are thinner than you?
  • Are you going on spending sprees?
  • Are you constantly worrying about things that are out of your control?
  • Do you feel depressed?
  • Do your moods fluctuate on a regular basis? For instance, do you find yourself crying one day and elated the next day?
  • Are you driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
  • Are you calling sick into work or not meeting obligations because you are hung-over?

If you answered "yes" to some or most of these questions, it might be a sign that you're struggling and could benefit from some support.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, help can vary from educating yourself on mental health and addiction, speaking with a therapist, and leaning on your family and friend support system to entering into an addiction or mental health treatment center.

One of the positive outcomes from this global pandemic is the increased access to virtual therapy.

Not only are licensed therapists moving from face-to-face sessions to virtual sessions but many insurance companies are now covering virtual therapy. As a result, therapy is now more affordable and accessible for those who have health insurance. 

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.

How to Cope

While an addiction is difficult to deal with, there are ways to help manage the difficult emotions and feelings that come along with an addiction.

Connect With Others

Although you may feel as though you are the only one struggling with an addiction—this is not true.

Millions of others are also experiencing triggers and cravings. It is incredibly important to rely on your support network.

Talk to your friends and family about your feelings, be honest with your emotions, and do not be afraid to ask for help.  

Take Care of Your Body

It is easy to hit the snooze button on our alarm, skip breakfast, and rush out the door to start the day. It is just as easy to stay up late and eat junk food. Taking care our physical health is an important part of maintaining our emotional and mental health.

When we jeopardize our physical health by not eating a balanced diet, not moving our bodies, or not maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, we are likely to become irritated, exhausted, and engage in self-harm behaviors such as negative self-talk.

It is crucial to keep a healthy sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time and getting at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

Drinking three liters of water a day and taking time to prepare balanced and nutritious meals are important ways to nourish your body. Regular daily exercise can help you build and maintain physical strength, and it also releases endorphins that can boost your mood and combat stress.  

Establish Healthy Boundaries

You will meet many people throughout your recovery journey who will support you, but you will also meet others who will bring you down and potentially compromise your sobriety.

It is important to learn how to respectfully and politely say “no” to others, avoid compromising situations that can jeopardize your recovery, and engage only with people who genuinely support your recovery. 

Get Outside

We spend the majority of our day indoors, whether it is at home, work, school, or in the car. Taking a few minutes to breathe fresh air and get into the outdoors can help us recharge and have some time to ourselves.

Whether you choose to eat a meal outside, go for a walk around the block, take the dog for a run or take a couple of work calls outdoors, the combination and fresh air and sunlight can be beneficial to your daily routine. 

Prioritize Self-Care

Self-care routines allow us to embrace both the challenges and victories that come with addiction recovery.

According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, practicing self-care while in addiction recovery is crucial to developing healthy coping skills and relapse prevention.

The more time you spend caring for yourself and paying close attention to your mind and body, the easier it’ll be to detect the early warning signs of an emotional, mental, and physical relapse.

Get Creative

Whether it is writing, cooking, music, painting, or photography, creativity can improve our moods and boost our concentration. We can channel our negative emotional states into creative outlets, and in the meantime, potentially create something beautiful. 

Remind Yourself That This Transition Is Temporary

Transitioning to life after COVID, like everything, is temporary. The present is never permanent, and this transition time will eventually pass. Although it is important to be mindful of the present, we can also allow ourselves to look forward to the future. 

Seek Therapy and Support Groups

It is essential, even when returning back "to the new normal," that we continue with treatment and therapy.

Although therapy may look different these days as most of us engage in virtual therapy with our therapists, treatment teams, and community support groups, we must continue to go to community support meetings, attend therapy sessions and have a relapse plan in place. 

Resources

Below is a list of resources for those struggling with eating disorders, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions.

Eating Disorders Resources

If you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder or suspect you might be dealing with one, contact the following resources:

Organizations and Blogs

  • National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA): This is the largest non-profit organization in the United States that provides awareness and prevention of eating disorders. It also provides resources to family members and loved ones. NEDA's blog offers insights into living with an eating disorder, seeking treatment, and coping with life after overcoming an eating disorder. The blog includes posts about interacting with others.
  • Eating Disorder Hope: Hope is valuable for people living with eating disorders and those who love them. Jacquelyn Ekern, a therapist who battled her own eating disorder, began this blog to help others. It covers new research on eating disorders, awareness events, and other news about treating and diagnosing eating disorders.
  • Project Heal: This organization works to provide grants to individuals who cannot afford eating disorder treatment and also works to raise awareness for eating disorders and promotes healthy recovery. 

Podcasts

  • The Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast: This podcast is hosted by Dr. Janean Anderson and is for "anyone who would like to learn more about the psychology of eating disorders, make peace with food, improve their body image, and live authentically." This podcast also supports those in eating disorder recovery.
  • The Recovery Warrior Show: This podcast is hosted by Tammy Beasley, RDN and discusses what is physically and physiologically occurring inside your body in the early stages of recovery from eating disorders. Gaining an understanding of the science behind your emotions and feelings can help alleviate some of the stress during this process. 
  • Love, Food: Hosted by Julie Dillon, this podcast allows listeners to rewrite their fate with food. Listeners write a letter to food outlining their complicated relationship with food from their first diet in early childhood to their first purging episode. You learn which food beliefs should stay in your heart and which others should be dumped down the garbage disposal. 

If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237. 

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

Substance Use Disorder Resources

Here's a list of resources to contact if you're dealing with substance abuse:

  • 12-Step Online: Provides and chat rooms and Zoom meetings for those in addiction recovery who are seeking to connect with others.
  • Families Anonymous: Provides live meetings for people with family and friends struggling with addiction.
  • Herren Project: Provides live online support groups for people coping with or recovering from an addiction.
  • In the Rooms: An online space for those who are struggling with addiction to meet others with a similar experience. Members can interact in live meetings and message other members.
  • Nar-Anon Family Groups: A 12-step program for those family, friends, and loved ones of those dealing with addiction.

Mental Health Disorder Resources

Reach out the following resources if you're dealing with a mental health condition:

Books

  • Autism: Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison 
  • Bipolar disorder: All the Things We Never Knew by Shelia Hamilton
  • Substance abuse: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
  • Schizophrenia: Mind Without a Home by Kristina Morgan
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Nowhere Near Normal by Traci Foust 
  • Trauma: Denial by Jessica Stern
  • Eating Disorders: Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia by Stephanie Covington Armstrong

A Word From Verywell

While coping with an addiction or recovering from one is an understandably difficult journey, you are not alone. There are resources and people who will be there to guide and support you as we begin to enter a post-COVID era.

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  1. Melemis SM. Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of RecoveryYale J Biol Med. 2015;88(3):325-332. Published 2015 Sep 3.

  2. The Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast