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COVID-19: Increased substance abuse during lockdowns and furloughs

There is no denying the degree of strain from COVID-19 restrictions on the lives of billions of people around the world. Infection rates and the debilitating effects on economies are at the fore, demanding priority measures. But, control measures also caused or escalated other problems, such as alcohol and drug abuse.


The effects of substance abuse


Substance abuse has harmful physical and mental effects on users. These adverse effects are not limited to the user. It is a volatile spiral that impacts families and loved ones. The Addiction Center described a few of these effects:


  • Relationships dissolve or suffer irreparable damage. The strain of knowing or living with an abuser cripples relationship ties. Substance abuse destroys trust, and human relationships corrode without it.


  • Unexpected medical expenses and the money it takes to sustain an addiction can expunge financial means. Addicts would do most anything – including steal from friends and family – to obtain the substance they are addicted to. Medical treatment is often sought in overdose cases.


  • Emotional damage and trauma flow from substance abuse. In some instances, alcohol or drug abuse also exacerbates other malignant behaviours, such as the tendency to abuse family members or loved ones physically.


Some of these effects are immediate, while others occur over lengthy periods.


How COVID-19 lockdowns led to the increase of substance abuse


For many, the COVID-19 lockdowns meant staying at home with very little to occupy their time. Cravings to use, or abuse, during lockdowns, were amplified.


The lockdowns and furloughs also prevented charities and support groups from assembling. Many of them organised online support sessions through virtual tools, such as Zoom. While this kept the support going, it lacked the personal touch often needed with such interventions. People without broadband or internet connection cannot access this virtual form of support.


Social workers, who were also under lockdown, could not support family members and other loved ones. A survey by Adfam showed that 85% of families battled to help loved ones with abuse problems.


Reports found that some people who had been sober for long periods relapsed into old abuse patterns during the lockdowns. Together with increased drug and alcohol abuse, this led to damaging events, such as overdoses.


There was an 86% rise in people seeking substance abuse help between January 2020 and January 2021. It is also important to note that parents with children at home are more likely to increase alcohol intake than people who have no children in the house. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found that reports of substance abuse among parents rose by 60% during most of 2020.


These statistics underpin the importance of drug and alcohol testing to identify red flags and get help. Matrix Diagnostics provides employers with advice and policy reviews, UKAS accredited laboratory testing services, workplace testing kits and training to test for substance abuse. The earlier a substance abuse problem is identified, the sooner it can be managed.

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