Will Substance Abuse Spike //again?


The other day I was picturing in my mind’s eye a little child playing with a yo-yo. I couldn’t help but think about the energy of a yo-yo in motion. In the hands of a skilled yo-yoer, we see a back and forth of potential energy as the yo-yo moves toward the ground, and then with a simple, skilled movement, that energy changes to kinetic energy where it spins and travels back up the string, against gravity.

Falling Up

The most basic explanation of how a yo-yo works is to say that it goes down and then it comes back up. In other words, it falls down and then falls up.

It is no secret that I believe that we all have the ability to Fall Up, but that does not mean that it is without challenges. The Covid-19 Pandemic has proven to be one of the greatest challenges we have experienced.

“Highlights” from the Pandemic include:

  • Toilet paper shortages
  • The rush to purchase antibacterial cleaners and skin sanitizers
  • Non-essential businesses shut down
  • Schools and fitness facilities closed
  • Entertainment venues shuttered
  • Lost jobs
  • Lost lives
  • Extreme racial tensions
  • Small businesses closing their doors forever

School and work took place over zoom, crafty entrepreneurs started new businesses making masks, and economies all over the world have been teetering for over a year.

From Hardship to Hopefulness

Earlier this year, with the advent of the vaccine, we were excited and buoyed by hope. By June, enough people were vaccinated to noticeably curb the virus. It looked like it was as good as over – and for a time, the research backed that up.

The world reopened with joy. Airports were bustling with travelers, hair salons were open again, schools welcomed students back to campus, and we could all go out to dinner! We tossed our masks aside and saw the smiles of our friends, neighbors, relatives, and coworkers again.

Enter Delta

Just when we thought things were returning to “normal”, the Delta variant of Covid appeared and is changing the landscape. While vaccines are effective against every known strain of the Covid virus, they sadly do not offer a sterilizing effect with the Delta variant. What that means to us is that even those who are fully vaccinated can carry and transmit the virus to others.

Masks – and Maybe More – Again

The CDC is now recommending that we pull out our masks again, especially those in hard-hit areas of the country. As the Delta variant continues to spread, we are seeing some who have been vaccinated getting ill – though most of the illnesses are among the unvaccinated.

Suddenly, the world is uncertain. It is not clear yet if we will have to return to the extreme measures of last year, but it would be prudent to prepare for the possibility.

Like a yo-yo, fear and stress are on the rise and people will look for ways to cope with all the unknown ahead.

Substance Use and Abuse and COVID-19

In June 2020, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use to cope with the stress of the pandemic. The overdose rate in 2020 increased 18% nationwide over 2019 and the overdose death rate increased by a tragic 30%! Alcohol remains the number one drug of abuse with marijuana, opioids, and cocaine running a close race.

As the uncertainty and stress surrounding the pandemic is increasing again, and it seems to follow that we will see an increase in substance use and abuse as well as a rise in anxiety and depression.

Families Who Have Loved Ones Experiencing Distress

Let’s face it, substance abuse and mental health issues are diseases of despair. Families and individuals are hurting. In my book, Addiction in The Family: Helping Families Navigate Challenges, Emotions, and Recovery, I outline clearly ways for family members and individuals in recovery to take care of themselves.

Here are some tips:

  • Do 3 things each week to take care of yourselves physically, emotionally, and consistently with your values (Try using the alphabet to think of things to do)
  • Know the 7 C’s
    • I did not cause my loved one’s problems
    • I cannot cure my Love one
    • I can communicate in healthy ways
    • I can make healthy choices
    • I can set Healthy Boundaries
    • I can celebrate myself
    • I can take care of myself
  • I can reach out for help for my loved one or for myself before things spiral out of control

A Word to My Fellow Professionals – Are you Ready to Continue or Return to a Virtual Life?

My fellow colleagues, are you ready to shift your practice again? The increasing stress, fear, and uncertainty of how this Delta variant will affect us will increase the demand for professional help for things like anxiety and depression.

Are you once again preparing for virtual visits? We learned over the last year that blended care (telehealth) and in-person (when possible) are effective when working with individuals and families.

None of us, dear colleagues, friends, and clients, are immune to the pandemic effects. Compassion fatigue travels as fast as the Delta variant.

Self-care is essential to prevent burnout, so do heed your own suggestions and find ways to take care of yourselves.

Here are 5 additional tips:

  • Do your part: Get vaccinated if you aren’t already.
  • Be smart: wear a mask wherever you go
  • Keep it up: Continue to wash your hands and the surfaces of your environment frequently with antibacterial products
  • Don’t forget about the youngsters you know: The Pfizer vaccine is approved for youth ages 12 and older
  • Get tested: Even if you are fully vaccinated, get a Covid test if you experience any symptoms, OR are in close contact with someone with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 (test 3-5 days after suspected or known exposure)
  • If you are experiencing stress, reach out for help

Lastly, if you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, fear, sadness, or substance abuse, reach out. There is always hope and always a solution.