For those dealing with substance abuse, pandemic can cause more anxiety. Experts say reach out for help

Medical Watch

The pandemic plus social isolation, unemployment and economic worries can create  a life-threatening formula, particularly for those already suffering with substance abuse disorder.

Addiction psychiatrist Dr. Deepali Gershan is with Compass Health Center. She said it’s a dangerous chapter for those using alcohol, marijuana or illegal substances to ease anxiety.

“(There is) anxiety and uncertainty about what is going to happen, when things are going to change, when are their circumstances going to be different,” he said. “If people were dealing with any history of substance abuse ever before, now is a particularly challenging time.”

People may be letting their anxiety depression or substance abuse issues – they may be delaying their access to treatment and allowing things to get significant worse. Where it may be easier or their treatment duration would be less if they were to access their treatment earlier.

With the shift to telemedicine, whether for one-on-one appointments or group therapy, access to treatment is easier than ever.

“Get connected. Reach out to a friend or family member,” Gershan said. “If you are connected with a psychiatrist or a therapist, talk to them. If you have a primary care doctor, or any doctor that you feel comfortable with, let them know you are struggling. Don’t deal with this alone.”

For those struggling with opioid use disorder, Gershan said medications such as bupenephrine and methadone  can decrease the risk for a fatal overdose by as much as 80%. And restrictions have been lifted when it comes to getting the life-saving treatment in the hands of patients. 

“Specifically for buprenorphine, now you don’t need the in-person visit any longer,” she said. “Unfortunately for methadone, you still need that first visit in person. But your subsequent visits can be virtual.”

As the pandemic stretches on, experts worry suicide rates will rise.

“Substance use can increase your risk for being impulsive, for acting on those thoughts or feelings of suicide that you may have,” Gershan said. “So that compounded by mental illness or delayed access to treatment may be a dangerous combination.

It’s a very difficult time, but treatment is available and easier to access than you think it might be. So reach out. Don’t suffer though this alone because there is treatment for this.

And a reminder, Narcan — the drug that helps reverse an opioid overdose — is available without a prescription in the state of Illinois.

Resources:

Compass Health Center: 773-649-0759

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They have an area where you can locate addiction treatment services near you by level of care and your zip code

The Crisis Text Line.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

For more information on resources and tips for coping during this time visit nimh.nih.gov.

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