How COVID-19 Is Worsening the Addiction Pandemic

Health care professionals already face long hours and high levels of stress, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only making things worse for their mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens far more than respiratory health — it’s also causing widespread mental health concerns and substance abuse. A recent editorial from Federal Practitioner explains how the pandemic’s effects of isolation, uncertainty and stress have impacted people who rely on ongoing recovery support. Now, it’s revealed that frontline workers like nurses, doctors and others currently facing long hours and stressful shifts may be struggling with substance use.

The Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Use

The editorial describes a nurse who relapsed due to acute work-related stress and subsequently died from a presumed overdose. The 32-year-old was unable to attend routine 12-step meetings and found virtual alternatives unhelpful. 

While it’s difficult to research such a new phenomenon, surveys show that mental health is declining and substance use is increasing during the pandemic. Our survey of mental health professionals found that 81% of clients have increased symptoms, and 53% have increased their level of substance use. Around 64.5% report increased anxiety, with 17.2% reporting depression symptoms.

In 2019, 49.9% of adults with severe mental illness reported past-year substance use, compared to only 16.6% of adults with no mental illness. Many with mental health disorders turn to substances in an attempt to self-medicate, which can lead to addiction. 

Why Are People Struggling?

While poor mental health can lead to substance use, a lack of community resources can as well. Due to how easily coronavirus spreads, many social support systems were forced to cancel events or move online. Additionally, many clinics with harm reduction services like needle exchanges and methadone treatment have closed their doors due to guidelines and budget issues, leading to higher overdose rates and dangerous substance use.

Isolation also plays a significant role in relapse, as many people rely on in-person support and a  sense of community to maintain recovery. Loneliness, financial struggles and stress can be overwhelming triggers for substance use.

Why Are Health Care Professionals Struggling?

Medical staff are already prone to addiction due to long hours and stressful work environments. Around 10% to 12% struggle with substance use during their careers, and co-occurring disorders are common in these individuals. For someone with a career in medicine, the stigma of addiction can be overwhelming, leading many to feel isolated as they progress deeper into addiction. 

Health professionals are facing a great burden during the pandemic, and many are feeling even higher levels of stress and experiencing burnout. These factors are likely causing greater numbers of medical staff to struggle with substance use.

Help Is Available at The Recovery Village

A study found that 74% to 90% of health professionals remain sober after attending treatment, which is an incredibly high rate. However, it’s important to treat the person as a whole — stopping substance use is not enough on its own. People with addiction must also learn strategies for coping with difficult situations, learn how to prevent relapse and receive treatment for underlying mental health concerns.

The Recovery Village offers a full continuum of care along with dual diagnosis treatment to improve chances of long-term sobriety and health. We also offer telehealth services, allowing clients to receive accessible treatment from the comfort of home. Contact us today to learn more about how our services can help you begin the path toward a healthier, substance-free life.


Geppert, Cynthia. “The Other Pandemic: Addiction.” Federal Practitioner, October 2020. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Borter, Gabriella. “A nurse struggled with COVID-19 trauma. […]und dead in his car.” Reuters, May 20, 2020. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indi[…]n the United States.” September 2020. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Kaur, Harmeet. “The opioid epidemic was already a nation[…]making things worse.” CNN, May 7, 2020. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Berge, Keith. “Chemical Dependency and the Physician.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, July 2009. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Mock, Jillian. “Psychological Trauma Is the Next Crisis […]irus Health Workers.” June 1, 2020. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.