Coronavirus and Addiction Treatment

How COVID-19 & Social Distancing is Affecting Recovery

Coronavirus and Addiction Treatment

How COVID-19 & Social Distancing is Affecting Recovery

Table of Contents


Social distancing to prevent coronavirus (COVID-19) does not seem to help addiction recovery. Below are some of the most common questions on the internet these days.

How to access addiction treatment if you are not allowed to go out?

Does addiction make you more likely to catch coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Will coronavirus infection be more severe if you have an addiction?

How will social distancing affect recovery? 

At this stage, some of the questions remain unanswered, and many have limited answers. That said, it’s important to stay informed and take precautions. A pandemic is a dynamic situation, especially when it involves a new organism like the coronavirus. Things change within a day, or maybe an hour. What’s true today may become obsolete tomorrow.

Coronavirus and Drug Addiction: A Quick Overview

This is a challenging time for billions of people worldwide. Coronavirus has now spread to all the continents except Antarctica. No wonder the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on January 30, 2020.

COVID-19 poses unique threats to specific populations. For example, most deaths have occurred in older adults with long-term health conditions.1 That said, young, healthy people are not immune to the virus.

You can read WHO Director-General’s message for young people here.

Another primary concern is identifying the risk of infection in people who use drugs. Evidence shows that those addicted to drugs face many challenges. The new virus does not only affect their recovery but may also make them more vulnerable to severe outcomes.

Of over 23 million US adults with addiction, only 10% get medical care.2 Measures to limit the spread of infection, such as quarantine and isolation, reduce treatment access.

Isolation prevents group sessions or visiting treatment centers. Likewise, prolonged isolation can cause anxiety and depression. As many people in recovery already have an underlying mental disorder, staying alone at home can be more damaging.

Looking for Addiction Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Arrow Passage Recovery is ready to help you. All calls are confidential, and there is no commitment required to speak with one of our caring staff members.

Get Help Now: 1 (855) 790-7398

Facts on Coronavirus and COVID-19

SARS CoV-2 is a type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It is a novel (new) virus, which means this is the first time the virus is seen in humans.

Experts believe the viral outbreak started from a seafood market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

Globally, the new coronavirus has affected nearly a million people. The worldwide death toll due to COVID-19 has now exceeded 35,000 and is expected to continue to rise.3

The US, Italy, and China are the hardest-hit, with total cases and deaths surging in the US.

As of March 20, 2020, the CDC has reported a total of 15,219 cases and 201 deaths in the US.4 Alarmingly, reports have come from all the 50 states.

Currently, COVID-19 has no cure. Social distancing, travel restrictions, and frequent hand washing can help reduce exposure to the virus.

Video: The Coronavirus Explained & What You Should Do

Infographic: COVID-19 Cases Rising Rapidly In The U.S. | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Can Coronavirus Infection Contribute to Drug Use?

The effects of COVID-19 on drug use are not apparent. Nonetheless, one cannot deny that stress and anxiety can make a person more likely to use a drug or alcohol.

Past studies show that a pandemic or crisis can increase alcohol consumption. A survey found that about 1 in 4 participants reported drinking more after the September 11 attacks.5

Does Addiction Increase the Risk of Getting Coronavirus?

No information is available on the direct association between addiction and COVID-19 risk. What scientists know is that exposure to the coronavirus and weakened immune systems increase the risk.

Addiction can put you in situations where you are more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. Examples include being in homeless shelters or prisons. Likewise, addiction to certain drugs can weaken immunity. For example, heavy opioid use can increase the risk of infection.

People who abuse substances might be more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the following reasons.

Homelessness, Incarceration, and Limited Access to Health Care Services

Homelessness and incarceration are more prevalent in people with substance use disorders compared to the general population.

Likewise, when dealing with these situations, there is limited or, in some cases, no access to health care services. It means there is less access to shots or medications to treat health issues. All these factors can increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Underlying Health Conditions

People with an underlying disease have a higher risk of COVID-19. Drug addiction is a known risk factor for many long-term conditions. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and lung diseases.6, 7, 8

Weakened Immunity in Long-Term Smokers

COVID-19 risk is likely higher in long-term smokers. Similarly, those who smoke marijuana or vape may also be more vulnerable.

Slowed Breathing in Opioid Abuse

Opioid abuse can cause slowed breathing. Because the coronavirus affects the lungs, people who abuse opioids may be at risk of COVID-19.

Lung Damage Due to Meth

Methamphetamine narrows blood vessels. This can contribute to lung damage. Thus, meth use can result in more severe symptoms.

Involvement in Unsafe Practices

These may include sharing needles or having unprotected sex.

Looking for Addiction Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Arrow Passage Recovery is ready to help you. All calls are confidential, and there is no commitment required to speak with one of our caring staff members.

Get Help Now: 1 (855) 790-7398

Video: What Is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Isolation in Addiction Recovery

What is Isolation?

If you have COVID-19, isolation means you to stay away from every person who is not sick. Isolation lasts until you are no longer contagious. It differs from quarantine.

Quarantine limits the movement of people who may have caught the coronavirus. Examples include people who have traveled to high-risk areas. Quarantine lasts until the tests confirm there is no COVID-19.

Effects of Isolation on Addiction Recovery

Loneliness can be detrimental to addiction recovery. For many, recovery happens in numerous small steps. Group discussion and emotional support are critical to positive treatment outcomes. Besides, they also help a person stick to treatment, which reduces the risk of relapse.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the mainstay of addiction treatment. It combines medications and talk therapy.

Talk therapy typically involves a group discussion, where a psychotherapist teaches specific skills. These include anger management and identifying/replacing negative thought patterns. While talk therapy may be available online, access to a computer or reliable internet connection is not always available.

Isolation and MAT

Isolation is most likely to affect opioid treatment programs (OTPs), a form of MAT. Medications used to treat opioid addiction are available only at specified treatment centers. Isolation will prevent access to life-saving medicines, such as methadone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol.

Anxiety and Depression During Isolation

Additionally, isolation can cause extreme worry, anxiety, or fear. Most often, the unwanted concern is associated with:

Your own or your loved ones' health status

The guilt of possibly spreading the disease to loved ones

Being under constant monitoring for COVID-19 signs and symptoms

The loss of productivity or income

Concerns about your children

Uncertainty about the duration of isolation

Loneliness, frustration, and boredom

Missing daily activities

Isolation may cause symptoms of depression or severe anxiety in some people. Moreover, it may trigger the urge to use drugs or alcohol to cope with uncomfortable feelings.

When to Call a Doctor?

Talk to your doctor if your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks. If you have feelings of harming yourself or another person, call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Social Distancing in Addiction Recovery

Connection is the key to long-term addiction recovery. Social distancing disconnects people.

Social distancing is a preventive measure for infectious diseases. It keeps people from coming very close to each other.

Social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 includes:9

Staying away from gatherings of over 10 people

Avoiding handshakes

Being at least 6 feet apart when interacting with a person other than the household members

Social distancing may not seem as painful as isolation. However, it is still going to affect addiction recovery significantly.

With the government’s decision to prohibit gatherings of over 10 people, recovery meetings have now gone online.

Undoubtedly, online meetings are more fruitful than no meetings. However, they cannot replace face-to-face meetings. Even worse, many people in recovery have no way to attend an online recovery meeting.

All of these changes will have a long-term impact on addiction recovery, say experts. Some say that social distancing is a recipe for treatment failure.

Infographic: What Share of the World Population Is Already on COVID-19 Lockdown? | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Looking for Addiction Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Arrow Passage Recovery is ready to help you. All calls are confidential, and there is no commitment required to speak with one of our caring staff members.

Get Help Now: 1 (855) 790-7398

How Addiction Treatment Centers Prepared

Continuing addiction treatment during a crisis, such as COVID-19, is challenging.

The goal of treatment is not only to treat addiction but also to protect other people against coronavirus.

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, many outpatient clinics have replaced face-to-face visits with virtual visits. Arrow Passage Recovery is still accepting patients. 

What Addiction Treatment Centers Need To Do

Check Who is Visiting the Clinic

Screening before arrival helps identify people that may have the coronavirus. Treatment centers may inquire about symptoms and recent travel history. Many centers are also taking additional precautions to protect the health of patients. 

Practice Hygiene and Social Distancing in the Waiting Room

Visitors should be informed about the following:

Hand washing

The use of a mask

How to cough or sneeze

Maintaining a distance of 6 feet between two persons

Consider Individual Sessions Instead of Group Sessions

Treatment centers should switch to individual therapy sessions whenever possible.

How to Support Addiction Recovery during Coronavirus?


Telehealth uses information and communication technologies (ICTs). This allows health care professionals to continue health care services to patients. Telehealth uses the internet, videoconferencing, and wireless communications.

SAMHSA has updated its guidance to address the needs of doctors and people in areas where COVID-19 is prevalent. Currently, the guidance focuses on the medications used to treat opioid addiction. Examples of such drugs include methadone and buprenorphine.

As per the update, patients will be able to use telehealth to access these drugs. They do not have to visit a clinic. Stable patients can get take-home doses enough to last 28 days. For some patients, the limit is a 14-day supply.10

Video Chat 12-Step Meetings

For many recovering people, 12-step meetings are nothing less than a savior. Attending a meeting helps you identify problems, develop coping skills, and enhance motivation.

Sadly, physical meetings are not possible due to the coronavirus outbreak. No one knows how long the prohibitions will last. Technology will help cut the effects of social distancing on addiction recovery.

The General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has issued a memo on how you can attend a meeting.11 You can use Zoom or Google Hangouts, depending on your AA group.

Click here to access a directory of online meetings.

Mobile Sterile Syringe Distributions

Sterile syringe reduces the risk of HIV and hepatitis in people who inject drugs. As more US states go on lockdown, access to safe needles has decreased drastically. Thus, some states have started a delivery-only service.

Contact your local syringe services program to learn if such services are available in your area.

Facebook Meetings

Facebook allows live meetings, event creation, and audio calls. Because many people are on Facebook, meetings can be an invaluable tool in connecting with friends. You can also create notes and distribute them among the group members.

Reddit Support

Reddit, the discussion website, can be a great friend at the time of crisis. You can ask questions, answer queries, and understand other people’s experiences. There are thousands of subreddits about addiction where you can share your experience.

Looking for Addiction Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Arrow Passage Recovery is ready to help you. All calls are confidential, and there is no commitment required to speak with one of our caring staff members.

Get Help Now: 1 (855) 790-7398

Will COVID-19 Change Addiction Treatment?

The current COVID-19 crisis does not seem to end soon. Based on the numbers, the crisis will likely persist for another 18 months or even more.

Social distancing and isolation/quarantine will last until a vaccine becomes available. Understandably, the level of restrictions will vary over time.

If everything goes right, a vaccine will probably reach the market after 1.5 years or more.13 The prediction is based on data from the US and the UK.

Assuming that a Vaccine will be Available after 12 Months

Drug overdose kills 67,300 Americans each year.14 More than 23 million US adults struggle with addiction. Of them, only 10% get treatment (2.3 million).

If the current restrictions reduce access to treatment by 40%, 0.92 million out of 2.3 million people will not receive treatment. One can imagine the extent of damage to their family and community.

Another aspect of addiction treatment is the cost. The President’s Budget for NIDA for 2020 is $1.3 Billion. This is down by over $120 million from FY 2019.15 Greater reductions in the budget can be expected in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Altogether, the COVID-19 crisis will have a long-lasting impact on addiction treatment. The effects may last several years after the crisis is over.

Learn More About Recovery

Questions About Addiction
or Mental Health?


Call Us Now:

Your call is confidential with no obligation required to speak with us.

You have Successfully Subscribed!