The global pandemic has eclipsed America’s existing epidemic: addiction. Today, the country faces two public health crises; one has emerged within the past six months, while the other has endured for decades. It’s not surprising that the novel coronavirus has drawn the nation’s focus. In such a short time, nearly two million Americans have tested positive for the virus, and while 432,000 have recovered, more than 100,000 people have died. However, current risk factors extend beyond COVID-19 to the social changes it has created. Rising unemployment and self-destructive behaviors have created a projected increase in deaths of despair.
COVID-19, Addiction, and Deaths of Despair
As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, the novel coronavirus has disproportionately impacted those with a history of substance use. People who are currently misusing drugs and alcohol are immunocompromised, meaning that they are more likely to contract the virus upon exposure. Additionally, COVID-19 has led to nearly 1 in 4 Americans becoming unemployed; research shows that in times of high unemployment rates, substance abuse rises, primarily because of heightened levels of anxiety, depression, and general psychological distress. This distress is compounded when one considers the emergence of a novel virus. People fear catching COVID-19 themselves, or that one of their loved ones will fall ill.
Typically, we encourage those in recovery to seek support and attend meetings when times are tough. As you know, COVID-19 has significantly changed what fellowship looks like. While help is available through virtual means, such as video conferences and phone calls, there’s no denying that many individuals feel more isolated than ever. This can worsen mental health struggles, especially if one does not reach out for professional assistance.
Together, these factors have led the Well Being Trust to estimate a marked increase in deaths of despair due to COVID-19.
What are Deaths of Despair?
The Well Being Trust defines deaths of despair as those attributable to drug use, alcohol consumption, and suicide. These deaths have already been on the rise for the past decade, and in the context of COVID-19, the study authors express concern about a sudden spike. The three factors of greatest concern include widespread unemployment, mandated social isolation, and the uncertainty caused by a previously unknown microbe.
All told, The Well Being Trust’s projections indicate that more than 150,000 Americans could die due to alcohol, drugs, and suicide this year. Without meaningful intervention from government bodies at the local, state, and federal level, this could easily come to pass.
When asking for more funding to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz said, “There’s more substance abuse, more overdoses, more domestic violence… The impetus is COVID-19, but the need was there before, and it’s just been increased by what’s happened as a result of the virus.”
What We Can Do
Fortunately, the key characteristic of deaths of despair is that they are preventable. While it is not an easy undertaking, it is possible to address this complex societal problem within each of our communities. Experts assert that these deaths are the symptom of much larger issues: unemployment, inequality, trauma, and adverse life experiences chief among them. Funding programs that reduce community violence, address discrimination and poverty, create safe spaces for young people, expand substance use prevention efforts, and promote access to secure housing will go a long way toward laying the groundwork for happier Americans nationwide.
It is also possible to impact The Well Being Trust’s concerning projections on an individual level. Call your local representatives and participate in your city’s budget hearings to request additional funding to these organizations. Additionally, you can make a difference in countless individual lives. Get involved in your area’s recovery community and serve as a sponsor, or simply develop close friendships with others in the group. Check in regularly with those you know who are in recovery, especially if you haven’t heard from them in a while, providing support whenever possible. By being active in your recovery and communing with others, it’s possible to decrease loneliness and prevent deaths of despair.
Find Addiction Treatment in Washington State
We understand the confusion and anxiety caused by COVID-19. At Lakeside-Milam, we’ve developed a host of in-person and telehealth services for the treatment of addiction and mental health concerns. We offer the full continuum of care, including withdrawal management, along with residential, outpatient, and long-term recovery services. For more information, contact our compassionate admissions staff today.