Experts have seen a rise in substance addictions, such as alcohol, tobacco and opioids, but explained that a host of other addictions are up, as well. “Behavioral addictions such as gambling, online gaming, sexual addiction, overspending and binge eating have also increased dramatically during the pandemic.
While all forms of addictions are thought to have increased, the more affordable and accessible ones have grown, especially. “Some addictions are more common than others due to availability, accessibility and price,” said Dr. John Kelly, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and program director of the addiction recovery management service at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve observed a significant rise in mental health problems including depression, anxiety and addiction,” said Dongju Seo, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.
Chris Foresta, a recovering heroin addict from Las Vegas and author of “Redemption Bridge: My Story of Addiction and Recovery,” said he has witnessed pandemic-related addictions firsthand. “So many of my friends have relapsed during the pandemic,” he said.
Why addictions have increased
Foresta explained that connection is the most important thing people struggling with addiction need to stay sober or avoid addiction, and that the past two years “have been a pandemic of isolation for most of us. Isolation is very dangerous for addicts.”
Eliana Leve, director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s New York services, agreed: “Addictive behaviors are often linked to emotional and social deficits. The isolation and uncertainty during the pandemic exacerbated those deficits by taking away opportunities to experience social connectedness and personal growth.”
While not everyone is addiction-prone — “Based on individual predispositions and availability, some people tend to be more vulnerable to certain types of addictions than others. Individuals who are have struggled especially the past two years.
In addition to robbing them of social opportunities, the pandemic has also interrupted the structure some had in place to mitigate temptations and manage stress.
Talking about your feelings is “the best ways to course-correct,” Leve echoed. “Secrets keep us sick.
Reach out to peers in recovery, speak to a supportive family member or friend, go to 12 steps or other mutual support meetings, reconnect with helpful mentors or sponsors, and seek professional help if needed.