Mental Health and Substance Use During a Global Pandemic

November 24, 2020 by Dr. Courtney Liggera

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of people in a variety of ways, some of which we are still discovering. Virtually everyone has suffered some form of a hardship over the past nine months. These include physical hardships, as many have fallen ill themselves and/or have lost loved ones to COVID-19. These include work-related hardships, like losing one’s job, or adapting to working from home while balancing a frenzied home life with children being educated online.   

But there are also the mental hardships, which can be more difficult to identify.  As the pandemic continues, many are missing the normalcy of social interactions and other activities outside the home.

Mental health professionals warn about the psychological effect the pandemic is having on people’s mental health and well-being.  Economic stress, anxiety and depression brought on by being home alone, and/or dealing with the loss of loved ones are all likely to have a significant impact on people. Mental health professionals also note that, as the pandemic rages on, the increase in mental health problems as a result of stress from social isolation and other COVID-19 related life changes is contributing to an increase in substance use and misuse. 

Although turning to alcohol and/or drugs may temporarily help you feel better, use of these substances, especially in higher frequency / amount, will ultimately make you feel worse and could lead to addiction and other mental health issues. Using drugs or alcohol to cope with life circumstances can become a habit that leads to substance abuse or addiction. Additionally, many people who were already experiencing mental health issues prior to the pandemic may be using drugs or alcohol more in an attempt to self-medicate and cope with symptoms of a mental health disorder.

Therefore, it is imperative that people focus on developing and maintaining healthy habits and activities to help alleviate stress/anxiety/depression instead.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Set limits with work and school so they do not blend into other areas of your life.
  • Limit exposure to social media and watching news. If you must watch the news, then set a specific time and only a specific channel. Don’t inundate yourself information from a variety of sources as it will only add to the stress.
  • Get moving. Take a walk, go for a run or a bike ride, do an exercise video or yoga.
  • Maintain healthy eating habits. Plan and cook healthy recipes and maintain normal meal times.
  • Keep connected. Talk to friends and family via videoconferencing.
  • Start a hobby. This is a great time for creativity. This will help with stress relief and positive thinking. 

Remember that everyone is going through some form of hardship right now as a result of the pandemic, so reaching out to loved ones and providing that much needed reminder that they aren’t alone and have support is also very helpful. 

If you or someone you care about is starting or increasing use of alcohol or other substances during the pandemic, please contact your healthcare provider to discuss various options for treatment and support.



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