COVID-19 and Addiction – Is it safe to go to treatment right now?

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is spreading rapidly around the globe. This highly contagious respiratory illness has disrupted life as we knew it. It has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, including addiction and recovery. People suffering from substance use disorders are particularly vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Both the physical and mental health of recovering addicts is under threat. In these unprecedented times, is it safe for people to start or continue addiction treatment? What are the safest options for alcohol and drug rehab during COVID-19?

Coronavirus and Physical Health

Alcohol and illicit drugs affect the human body in a dozen different ways. They cause harm to internal organs and weaken the immune system. Vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys are damaged by the toxic substances present in street drugs. Alcohol affects the liver and pancreas and can cause brain damage. Smoking tobacco or any illegal drug compromises lung function.

When a healthy person becomes infected by the coronavirus, their immune system works to fight the disease, allowing them to recover. For this reason, many healthy people suffer only mild COVID-19 symptoms. However, when a person affected by drug addiction or alcohol abuse becomes infected with the coronavirus, their compromised immune system and diminished lung capacity put them at risk for serious COVID-19 illness and death.

COVID-19 and Mental Health

The widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased levels of stress and anxiety in many people. Individuals with pre-existing mental health issues are at risk of worsening symptoms in these uncertain times.

The link between mental health and substance abuse has long been established. Roughly half of all people with severe mental disorders also struggle with addiction. When substance use disorders and mental health issues co-occur in an individual, it is called a dual diagnosis.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health issues have been exacerbated due to social isolation and health worries. Many first responders and healthcare providers who are at the frontlines of the coronavirus response are paying an emotional toll. Feelings of fear, guilt, and overwhelming exhaustion are common. The disruptions caused by the viral outbreak have interrupted treatment for mental health conditions. Some people have increased drug or alcohol use to cope with stress. This has led to a worsening of mental health problems and substance abuse. That’s why, despite COVID-19, it is important to seek treatment.

People with mental health conditions and substance use disorders can and should obtain addiction treatment and therapy during COVID-19. This is essential to prevent the use of drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism during the coronavirus outbreak.

Inpatient Addiction Treatment During COVID-19

Some people are afraid to enter alcohol or drug rehab during COVID-19 for fear of becoming infected with the virus. However, top residential addiction treatment facilities in America are taking all the necessary precautions to ensure patient safety. Before starting treatment, clients are questioned about the symptoms of COVID-19 as well as close contact with anyone who may have the disease. Patients may need to undergo a coronavirus test before entering the rehab program. A period of quarantine may be warranted while their health status is evaluated.

Patients who are currently in rehab are being screened and monitored for COVID symptoms. Should these be present, they are quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus. Inpatient rehab centers have also limited visitors to reduce the risk of COVID spread. Enhanced cleaning has been implemented, especially of frequently touched surfaces in public areas, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, light switches, and countertops. Soap, water, and sanitizer are made readily available to residents. Physical distancing is practiced to maintain at least 6 feet distance between people. Group therapy sessions are kept to under 10 individuals. With these measures, inpatient drug rehab centers and alcohol addiction treatment facilities are making sure treatment can continue in a safe and sanitary manner.

Outpatient Drug Rehab During Coronavirus Outbreak

People in outpatient alcohol and drug rehab continue living at home while receiving addiction treatment. All patients starting or continuing outpatient treatment for substance abuse are screened for COVID-19 symptoms. If a client has symptoms of coronavirus or has been in contact with an infected person, they are tested for COVID-19. If they test positive, they are isolated and prevented from attending addiction treatment with other patients and staff. In such cases, telehealth drug rehab services may be available. Patients can continue receiving treatment via phone calls or video calls. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicare has expanded coverage of telehealth services. A wide range of treatments is available through online platforms to prevent patients from traveling to treatment facilities. This includes telemedicine for addiction therapy and support groups. The 12-step programs being conducted on-site are practicing social distancing and taking enhanced sanitary precautions.

Outpatient substance abuse treatment programs are allowing people in recovery to continue receiving support during the coronavirus outbreak. Counselors are offering webinars and consultations via online meeting platforms like Zoom. This is to ensure that people struggling with alcohol or drug problems do not get cut off from their support system.

Medication-Assisted Addiction Treatment During COVID Outbreak

Medication-assisted programs offer treatment to people with alcohol and opioid addictions. Oftentimes, this requires travel to the clinic to receive a daily dose of medications like methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. These medications help control uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and ease the path to recovery from opioid abuse. Opioid treatment programs are essential services and remain open during the lockdown period for COVID-19. However, traveling to the center, especially by public transport, places recovering addicts at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Stable patients may be permitted to take 14-28 days’ worth of medication home to reduce exposure to the coronavirus. However, addicts who are still at high risk of abusing opioids are required to continue coming to the facility daily to ensure safe medication-assisted addiction treatment. Opioid treatment programs are practicing enhanced cleaning and isolation measures to ensure patient safety.

Getting Addiction Treatment During COVID-19

The world seems to have come to a standstill, but addiction doesn’t wait for anybody, including the coronavirus. If anything, substance abuse disorders could be amplified by the isolation and stress of the COVID crisis. If you or someone you love is trying to overcome an addiction, do not hesitate to reach out to a drug and alcohol rehab center. Even in these strange times of COVID-19, it is possible to begin addiction treatment today.

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