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COVID-19, mental health and drug abuse

People who abuse drugs or alcohol often do so to cope with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. A global pandemic like COVID-19 can trigger a wide range of emotional reactions, causing high levels of anxiety and stress for all of us. 

“Substance use and abuse during this time should be avoided but people turn to substances to cope with the stress and trauma,” says Estelle Raath, the deputy manager of Johannesburg-based South African National Council on Alcoholism (Sanca) Wedge Gardens rehab centre.

People often cope by using substances, primarily things that are easily available like alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and non-prescription medications, she explains. “That’s why substance abuse may rise during COVID-19. Substance abusers might look for a way to feel better and escape from the traumatic and stressful circumstances. 

“Many substance abusers have underlying medical conditions, which often place them at great risk of contracting COVID-19. The fear that they might get the virus by leaving their homes or going back to work can cause extreme anxiety for many. Anxiety and stress are huge triggers for relapse,” says Raath.

She explains that when a person’s stress overwhelms their coping skills, they are more likely to abuse substances, to relapse or to increase the substances they already use.

“We are social beings and in need of human contact. COVID-19 has exposed people to isolation, relationship challenges and financial insecurity. During isolation, no contact can have a negative impact on mental health and again there is a link between mental health and addiction.”

For those who are trying to stop using drugs or have stopped, it is important to reach out for help during this time. 

How to take care of yourself:

Reduce or stop taking any non-prescribed substances if you can do it safely.

Take prescription medication as prescribed.

Reduce the intake of caffeine and alcohol.

Connect with loved ones while maintaining physical distances.

Join addiction support groups; there are many groups available online.

Practice self-care.

Seek professional help if you cannot do it alone.

To find a Sanca rehab centre, including Wedge Gardens, visit www.sancanational.info, phone 011 892 3829 or send a WhatsApp to 076 535 1701.