A hidden danger of COVID-19

A hidden danger of COVID-19

In some shape or form, COVID-19 is affecting everybody. For some, the virus itself is not the only danger brought on by this pandemic.

Two overlooked health issues stemming from the crisis are mental health and substance abuse. Anxiety and stress ramp up during a crisis, and to cope with these emotions during this difficult time, many people may turn alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

For people with a history of substance abuse, relying on and over-using on these coping mechanisms can have dangerous and potentially fatal results.

“Changes to everyday life naturally causes fear and anxiety,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, director of behavioral health at Aurora Health Care. “These feelings can be overwhelming, and everybody copes with these feelings in different ways.”

Loneliness linked to substance abuse

While social distancing is vitally important to stopping the spread of COVID-19, years of research and evidence links social isolation and loneliness to mental health and addiction issues. Some major concerns during this time include stress, anxiety, clinical depression, suicidal thoughts, disordered eating patterns, substance abuse and other addictive behaviors.

While the medical community continues to learn more about COVID-19, many experts suspect that the virus may hit substance abusers harder. Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs, it might be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape. People with opioid use disorder and methamphetamine use disorder may also be vulnerable due to those drugs’ effects on respiratory and pulmonary health.

Alcohol abuse can cause anxiety

During quarantine, many people have been sure to stock their liquor cabinets. Nationally, there’s been a rise in alcohol sales and consumption.

Anxiety and alcohol use are often connected. People often drink to relax and reduce anxiety, but chronic alcohol abuse can actually cause anxiety. Excessive drinking can rewire the brain and make somebody more susceptible to mental health problems.

“With COVID-19, we’re staying at home looking for something to do and think, why not have a drink? It’s important to be careful, drink responsibly and not create or exaggerate existing mental health conditions,” says Dr. Barakat.

Healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety

Obviously, the best way to stay mentally and physically healthy is to not use alcohol, tobacco and hard drugs. Beyond that, Dr. Barakat recommends:

  • Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media
  • Calming down with deep breaths, stretching or meditation
  • Eating healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Making time to unwind through activities you enjoy
  • Connecting with others and talking with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Check out our COVID-19 resource page for more information to keep you safe from the virus.

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About the Author

Matt Queen
Matt Queen

Matt Queen, health enews contributor, is a communication coordinator at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee. He is a former TV sports anchor and journalist with extensive public relations experience across the health care spectrum. Outside of work, Matt enjoys watching sports (of course), cooking, gardening, golfing and spending time with his wife and two young children.