Battling Addiction amid COVID & Social Distancing

People battling addiction face added challenges when it comes to their support networks and healthcare during this pandemic. Sanket Dhat, MD, Medical Director at the CMG Addiction Treatment Center and Pathway’s Recovery Lodge offers some insights and advice.

Are people with substance use disorders more at risk now with COVID?

COVID has disrupted many lives, and people with substance use disorder are not immune.  In fact, they are at greater risk for relapse during this time because of the disruptions of care and support. 

Disruption of care

Patients struggling with addiction depend on the continuity of care from providers for therapy and possibly for medication. If because of COVID, clinics are closed or change their workflow, access to care might be disrupted.

Disruption of Support

Social distancing reduces the spread of COVID. And many peer recovery groups, AA, NA, etc. were suspended due to COVID. Most substance use disorder patients depend on social support for their recovery. 

Another concern is that people with substance use disorders are at increased risk of a negative outcome if they contract coronavirus.  COVID mortality increases with smoking or anything that affects the lungs. So smoking marijuana can lead to poorer outcomes.

Compromised lung function from COVID-19 could also put those who have opioid use disorder (OUD) or methamphetamine and other psychostimulant use disorders at risk. Chronic respiratory disease increases the risk for a fatal overdose in those who use opioids therapeutically. In addition, slowed breathing due to opioids causes hypoxemia, which can lead to cardiac, pulmonary, and brain complications and, if severe, can result in overdoses and death. At least 2 million persons in the United States have OUD, and more than 10 million misuse opioids; these individuals may be at increased risk for the most adverse consequences of COVID-19. 

Is there a risk that anxiety and being in isolation, can increase the chances that someone might develop a new substance use problem?

We all are facing anxiety because of the uncertainty associated with this virus and we have less support due to social isolation.  Many people, unfortunately, use alcohol or smoking to cope with the anxiety.  And for that sake, there is an increased risk of having newly developed substance use disorder because of this pandemic and social isolation, or worsening of the existing substance use disorder.

What advice would you give to people with Substance Use Disorders during this time?

Reach out to a provider. Providers are coming up with new ideas for how to treat patients and keep them safe and sound. At the CMG Piedmont Psychiatric Center, we moved our clinic from face-to-face appointments to telehealth in a matter of a week. Now, telehealth is up and running. Most of our patients at CMG-Addiction Treatment Center prefer to use telehealth because it is easy for them.

Do you have any other tips to increase resiliency and just encourage sobriety?

Being anxious about this whole uncertainty is quite common, and it is ok to be anxious. But I would encourage people who struggle with these issues to reach out to their provider or any healthcare professional.

And social distancing does not mean social isolation. I would strongly recommend staying in touch with family and friends via phone calls or FaceTime or any other means.  If you have a sponsor or social worker, reach out to them.

If you have a loved one with a substance use disorder, what can you do to help support their sobriety or just support them during this time?

Peers or family members should be alert to the possibility of relapse or recurrence in this environment.  If you detect any change in their behavior, get in touch with them.  But more people are relapsing in this new environment.  And it’s okay because addiction is a relapsing and recovering illness. Families should recognize that relapse is part of the disease and recovery. 

I always tell my patients that addiction doesn’t only take a toll on them but on their families.  So families need to take care of themselves too during this time.


I would like to use the quote, I came across the web and it struck me as very useful. As problems pile up in the world around you, and emotional storms rage in the world within you, follow the steps of FACE COVID:

F = Focus on what’s in your control

A = Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings

C = Come back into your body

E = Engage in what you’re doing

C = Committed action

O = Opening up

V = Values

I = Identify resources

D = Disinfect & distance

If you have questions about Centra’s services for Substance Use Disorders, please call one of our counselors at 434-200-4455.

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