Did the Pandemic Cause People to Relapse on Opioids?

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many adverse effects, even outside the virus itself. Since the start of the pandemic, life has been upended for nearly everyone, including people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. 

COVID-19 and Drug Addiction

Researchers observe increases in substance use and drug overdoses in the U.S. since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency in 2020. There are distinct challenges for people who have substance use disorders and are recovering.

Some of the reasons the pandemic has affected people with addiction or led to an increased likelihood of relapse on opioids and other substances include:

  • People have been dealing with anxiety about COVID itself for several years. There are worries about getting sick yourself. People also worry about their loved ones and their COVID-19 risk. With hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S. alone, many people know someone who has become seriously ill or died because of the virus. These are things that create negative mental health effects. When someone is dealing with anxiety, fear, or depression, they may turn to coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol. These are also feelings that could trigger a relapse if someone struggles with positive coping mechanisms.
  • The pandemic led to shutdowns and disruptions in normal life and routines, along with fears about the virus itself. When someone uses substances or is in recovery, something disruptive to their routine can lead to a drug craving, drug-seeking behavior, increased usage, or relapse.
  • Since there were shutdowns, many people lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Job loss and economic worries and contributors to alcohol and drug relapse. Stress-induced relapse is an enormous problem for so many right now. 
  • Social distancing required that people not see their friends, family, and perhaps their recovery support network. For a period of time, many support and recovery groups weren’t meeting in person.
  • Health care wasn’t as accessible or available as it usually is, including mental health care. Telehealth options became more common during the pandemic, but they weren’t necessarily readily available at the beginning of COVID in the U.S.
  • An opioid use disorder or another addiction may raise the risk of severe illness with the virus that causes COVID-19. The use of opioids can slow breathing on its own. If you were sick and had respiratory symptoms, these could get worse with opioids. Like many other medical conditions, a substance use disorder makes you high risk. 

Before the pandemic, the treatment infrastructure was strained and faced limitations. Now, even more, comprehensive services are needed.

Increases in Substance Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, data shows significant increases in many types of drug use in the United States and among people with substance use disorders.

Researchers point to increases in the number of positive urine drug screenings ordered by legal systems and health care providers as evidence. In these reports, doctors are finding positive screens for cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine from past years.

Studies show that people in the U.S. are increasing their use of alcohol and cannabis. This is especially true among people with depression and clinical anxiety and people dealing with COVID-19 stress.

Relapse on Opioids

Record-Breaking Overdose Deaths in 2020

There was progress in the fight against the opioid epidemic before the pandemic. Overdose deaths were trending down for the first time in many years. Then, the pandemic happened, and all that progress seemingly vanished.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, there were an estimated 100,306 overdose deaths in the U.S. during 12 months, ending in April 2021. The increase was 28.5%, from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the previous year.

The CDC’s data shows opioid overdose deaths increased to 75,673 in those 12 months. Fentanyl deaths went up, as did deaths from psychostimulants like methamphetamine. Cocaine deaths increased, and deaths from natural and semi-synthetic opioids like pain medications rose.

Deaths due to overdose went above a million for the first time since the CDC started collecting data more than two years ago. A recent study released by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC, found 932,364 people died in the U.S. from a fatal overdose from 1999 through 2020. That doesn’t include the more than 100,000 deaths in 2021.

These deaths have gone up fastest among young and middle-aged adults.

The age group in particular with the highest rates is adults 35-44, and in that age bracket, drug overdose deaths went up 33% from 2019 to 2020. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 saw the largest year-to-year increase in fatal overdoses. Deaths in this age group were up 49% in 2020.

Alcohol Use During the Pandemic

It’s not just drug relapse rates and the links between covid-19 and drug addiction that worry addiction professionals. Alcohol use soared during this time as well, among other addictive behaviors. 

  • Researchers estimate a one-year increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic will lead to 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver diseases. 
  • They estimate it will contribute to 18,700 cases of liver failure and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040.
  • Excessive drinking among adults in the U.S. went up by 21% during the pandemic.
  • When an emergency was declared in the U.S., alcohol sales went up 54% during the initial week.
  • Excessive drinking stems from boredom and social isolation to using it as a coping mechanism.
  • Addiction specialists warn that a drinking problem doesn’t just mean excessively consuming alcohol. Other signs of problematic drinking can include having alcohol when you didn’t otherwise plan to, or in situations where you wouldn’t normally drink.

Warning signs also include alcohol impacting your work performance, your ability to take care of your household or family, or adverse effects on your relationships.

What Can Be Done?

For someone who experiences a relapse on opioids or other substances, the most important thing to do is get help right away. The longer you wait after a relapse, the more likely complications and negative outcomes will occur.

Most treatment centers and mental health facilities reopened, and support groups are meeting again, so there are opportunities to receive help.

There are also telehealth platforms where people can get help for addiction or relapse.

If you experience a relapse, you may need to go through treatment again to regain your footing on your recovery path.

If you’re experiencing new symptoms of a substance use disorder, you aren’t alone. There are so many factors contributing to substance abuse among people who maybe didn’t have problematic use habits before the pandemic.

If you’d like to learn more about specific steps you can take to combat substance abuse while we adapt to “the new normal,” please contact Silicon Valley Recovery at 408-547-4089.

Relapse Triggers: Ways to Avoid Relapse

In the context of treating addiction, relapse is the act of a recently abstinent addict returning to use of their addictive substance or behavior. In everyday language, relapse is commonly used interchangeably with the term “relapse into substance abuse,” which is considered the more general definition for returning to addictive behavior. Thus, addiction relapse may be a more appropriate term since not all addicts will return to abusing a specific drug or self-destructive behavior.

Addiction relapse results from the brain returning to addictive patterns of behavior that were overcompensated for in the past. Addiction relapse often occurs when a smoker begins associating situations and feelings with potential triggers for smoking, such as being in stressful situations during addiction recovery. Such stimuli can be reminders of past addictions, for example, drugs or alcohol. Once the brain develops patterns around the common relapse trigger and associates them with smoking, it may fall into old habits.

The process of relapse typically occurs in three stages:

  • Emotional relapse

  • Mental relapse

  • Physical relapse

What are the Common Addiction Relapse Triggers?

Substance abuse triggers are internal and external cues that cause a person in recovery to crave drugs and often relapse or lapse. A trigger for relapse is an emotional, environmental or social situation that drags up memories of drug or alcohol use in the past.

If you’re an addict or alcoholic reading this, you have probably gone through a relapse before. You know the signs, and you know how it feels. The potential for relapse is always there. It’s essential to learn about what addiction relapse triggers are if you want to avoid them so that you can remain sober in the future.

What are Internal and External Triggers? 

  • External triggers are certain activities, locations, people, objects, images, situations, and events that can make you want to use drugs or drink alcohol.

  • Internal triggers are thoughts or emotions that make you want to use drugs or alcohol.

Relapse is a significant component of staying clean and sober. Relapse can be defined as the return to drug or alcohol use after a period of abstinence. Closely about one-third of people relapse within one month, more than half relapse by six months, and virtually all relapse within a year.

Having an understanding of why addiction relapse occurs may help you to keep from the risk of relapse. Here are five of the most common and often seen relapse triggers and ways to avoid triggers in recovery:

 

1. HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

The HALT acronym is one of many simple tools we can use to improve our quality of daily life when facing addiction. Identifying situations that cause us to put ourselves in emotional discomfort helps us be more effective in handling them effectively. For instance, if we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, we become vulnerable to poor decision-making and relapse.

Naming the sensation allows us to take action that may help prevent a situation from turning into one with negative consequences.

 

2. Emotional Stress

 Preventing relapse is a crucial part of the addiction recovery process; however, many individuals may not be fully prepared to cope with the common relapse trigger and temptations they encounter daily. These emotions can serve as reminders of a person’s history and former coping methods, inciting negative feelings of helplessness. When they feel like they are winning the battle against their drug addiction, a perceived negative emotion can lead them to use drugs or alcohol in the first place.

Anxiety is a symptom of relapse. Feeling powerless can trigger a potential relapse. Blaming others for your problems promotes relapse. Never being able to tolerate any discomfort puts you at risk for relapse.

 

3. Overconfidence

Reach the highest highs and the lowest lows. There’s no greater high than recovery, but that doesn’t mean you should get overconfident about your recovery. Overconfidence in recovery puts you at risk for relapse. Being optimistic about your new life as a sober individual is necessary, but becoming overconfident crosses a line from healthy confidence to self-satisfaction and addiction risk.

 

4. Social Isolation

Although your reliance on drugs or alcohol may have initially been your desire to fit in and feel part of a group, this reliance can easily lead to feelings of social isolation and loneliness over time. If you lack a support system to turn to when times are tough, or you’re feeling down, it can become easy to convince yourself that you need a drink or a drug of choice to help you through.

Social support is crucial to long-term recovery. To combat feelings of isolation, contact your nearest Narcotics Anonymous group or other 12 Step fellowship, and ask to be put in touch with a sponsor. Get involved in meetings and activities. This will help you build a recovery network and ease your loneliness.

5. Reminiscing

A major red flag that you have not truly accepted your addiction is when you reminisce about times from the past when you used it. This type of nostalgia is a way to romanticize your addiction, especially if you overlook all the suffering your addiction caused.

It’s important to remember that each drink or drug use was its separate incident with its consequences, emotions, and learning opportunities. These memories can stir up strong emotions that lead to the impulse to use a substance again. Objects in an individual’s everyday life may induce illicit drug cravings.

Holiday parties involving social drinking may be tricky. Avoid high-risk situations and locations. Some of the other people who may be triggering include former drug dealers, co-workers, employers, neighbors, spouses, or partners. Positive feelings can also serve as internal triggers.

Addiction is a chronic brain disease with a relapse rate similar to that of other chronic conditions like diabetes. Addiction is a ruthless master, always finding ways to trick the addict into believing that their behavior isn’t addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of people who are treated for substance use disorders will relapse at some point.

If you start to rationalize your addictive behaviors by viewing them through rose-colored glasses, then you are becoming an enabler to your addiction. Focus on the pain your addiction caused you and others. This is what will help keep you on the path to sobriety.

Family dynamics may influence an individual’s substance use abstinence self-efficacy. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of addictive behavior and are looking for a way out, complete recovery from the relapse process is possible. First, it’s essential to seek help and treatment from a professional specializing in substance abuse or mental health disorders.

Relapse Triggers

Relapse Triggers: Ways to Avoid Relapse

Getting Help

Since many individuals with substance use disorder also suffer from co-occurring disorders, seeking help from an expert who can assess and treat any underlying condition that may have contributed to your addictive behavior is crucial.

At Silicon Valley Recovery, we provide individuals with a comprehensive treatment plan to avoid the common triggers for relapse. We use a combination of professionally supported 12-step meetings, balanced medical care, and evidence-based therapy to give patients a relapse prevention plan that they need to avoid relapse and achieve long-term sobriety. our substance abuse treatment aims to help individuals recognize the early warning signs of relapse and develop healthy coping skills to thwart a possibility of relapse.

Give us a call today at 408-547-4089 and start the recovery process. We offer a wide range of addiction treatment programs to help you fight negative behaviors.