“Substance Use Disorders are progressive, meaning they get worse over time. This progression can happen quickly for some while taking many years for others. Sometimes the progression is so subtle, and so innocuous, that individuals and families don’t realize the severity of the problem until the consequences become catastrophic. In other cases, the progression can accelerate rapidly. Differences can be accounted for by internal factors such as personal genetics, or by difficult life events that trigger an increase in substance use as a coping mechanism to get through the tough times. There are as many variations in the experience of progression as there are people with substance use disorders, but one thing that appears to be true is that once a certain invisible threshold is crossed, once a person has developed a certain degree of substance use disorder, the symptoms continue to get worse as long as substance use continues.
For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided factors that have resulted in an acceleration of the progression of their substance use and have caused an increase in mental, emotional, and physical dysfunction, as well as major friction in relationships and damage at home. For individuals where active substance use was already an established problem before the pandemic hit, the impact of COVID-19 has only served to push their addiction into overdrive. Others who may have had a mild to moderate substance use disorder prior to COVID-19 have experienced an increased level of use that may include withdrawal syndrome, cravings, and other physical reactions to substances that they have never felt before. Still, others who may have been social substance users prior to the pandemic may find themselves teetering on the edge of a diagnosable disorder, and may be finding it difficult to reduce substance use, or to stop using for the first time in their lives. Examples of progression occurring during this time are plentiful and occur on a scale from mild to severe.
While COVID-19 has brought with it a marked increase in substance use, there is a silver lining. Many of the individuals that would have otherwise experienced a long progression of increasing substance use, symptoms, and consequences are now seeking help sooner rather than later. In many cases, individuals that never would have considered their substance use a problem have watched their own behaviors and have realized that they need to address their reliance upon drugs and alcohol in order to achieve the quality of life that they desire.
We often hear the stories of struggle and suffering and assume that these are bad things, but for most people in recovery it was suffering that generated the motivation to change, and in hindsight, many consider that suffering a gift. There is a massive opportunity to use the discomfort and pain that is being created by the progression of addiction and the compounding factors of COVID-19 as a jumping off point for growth and improvement. This is not hyperbole. The circumstances we are living in are highlighting problems that could have otherwise gone unaddressed indefinitely, and this may very well be one of the best times in history to seek help for addiction and other problems.
There is no shame or blame to be found in struggling during these times. For the first time in history we are acutely aware that everyone around the globe is dealing with the same issues and adapting as best they can. The entire world is experiencing an increase in substance use and mental health issues. Employers, family, and friends are going through their own version of difficulty, and anyone that is supportive will understand that extra help right now is a good thing. It is okay that things have gotten difficult during this pandemic, and the right thing to do is seek help and address the problems. Reaching out and engaging with support groups and professional help now will help establish a new foundation of health that will lead to a better life.
In addition to this being a perfect time to utilize adversity as a springboard to health it, is also a time when treatment facilities and practitioners are better poised than ever to provide care. While residential and extended programs have continued to function in-person during the pandemic, they remain some of the safest and most regulated places to be and to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Quality residential programs are health care facilities and operate under strict safety guidelines and measures that go above and beyond the guidelines you will see observed most anywhere else.
The pandemic created an unprecedented urgency for Intensive Outpatient Programs and outpatient providers of all types to quickly transition most of their services to telehealth or virtual platforms like Zoom or WebEx. COVID-19 forced a rapid acceptance of new ways to provide individual and group therapy that are likely to stay. While some people struggle conceptually to see the value in virtual therapy, the reality is that virtual services provide a great benefit and convenience that improves access to treatment services that would likely not have existed as abundantly for many years without the crisis we’ve been faced with. At this stage, many providers are beginning to bring back in-person services that they had suspended, and others are providing hybrid in-person and virtual programming and services. The combination of services provided via traditional in-person care and virtual therapies provides a host of dynamic solutions that can be catered better to the individual’s needs.
It’s important to note that the adage that you have to hit bottom before you’re ready to accept help is simply untrue. Getting help is a good thing at any stage, and it will begin to be effective if there is the smallest amount of willingness to participate. Life does not need to be falling apart for you to need or want help. Greater consequences can be avoided, and life can improve starting right now. If you are not sure whether your substance use is a problem, or if you’re concerned about a loved one and don’t know what to do, call a professional. The best place to start when you are uncertain is often an evaluation. Evaluations do not require a commitment to complete a treatment regimen. They will give you an objective view of the problem and good options to consider for help.”
Tom Walker, CSAC, QMHP-A, is the Executive Director of Encore Outpatient Services, based in Arlington, Virginia. Encore Outpatient Services, A Caron & MARC Partnership, operates partial hospitalization (PHP) and intensive outpatient (IOP) programs for substance use disorder and co-occurring disorders for residents of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. For more information on Encore Outpatient Services, please visit www.encorerecovery.com.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.