Coronavirus (COVID-19) Implications

By The Recovery Village | Editor Jonathan Strum
Medically Reviewed By Melissa Carmona | Last Updated: June 20, 2023

People with addiction are facing increased risks during the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the hurdles that people in recovery or with active addiction are facing today.

What COVID-19 Could Mean for Substance Use, Addiction and Recovery

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted many Americans physically, emotionally or financially. However, around 20.3 million Americans are likely feeling even more pressure during statewide lockdowns. These individuals have to struggle not only with isolation, anxiety and stress, but another set of obstacles directly related to drug and alcohol addiction.

Coronavirus is creating additional risks for people with substance use disorders and those in recovery. These include:

  • Increased mortality rates in people with lung or heart conditions
  • Decreased access to health care
  • Decreased access to medication-assisted treatment
  • Increased risk of relapse
  • Increased risks of overdose

Though these risks exist, there are steps people living struggling with addiction and recovery can take to stay safe and find help. The first step is understanding how these risks can play out.

Risks for People With Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), coronavirus may cause dangerous complications for people with compromised respiratory health, which can occur as a result of drug use. Opioid use slows breathing, lowering oxygen levels. Combining this with the diminished lung capacity caused by coronavirus could lead to death. Similarly, people with a history of methamphetamine, cigarette, vape or marijuana use may also face complications if they contract the virus.

These are problems that affect those who contract coronavirus, but there are other issues created by the pandemic that can affect people with an addiction. NIDA points out that if hospitals become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, there will be fewer resources to devote to people with addiction, such as rooms for detox or overdose treatment. Additionally, social distancing may make it more likely that someone overdoses alone, which may increase overdose deaths.

Some needle exchange programs and methadone clinics are also facing shutdowns amidst the pandemic. For many, reduced access to medication-assisted treatment increases risks of relapse and can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms, overdose or death.

Risks for People in Recovery

Lockdown and self-quarantine measures across the country have put a large amount of pressure on businesses, schools, organizations and individuals. Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment after being furloughed or laid off entirely, while others continue working from home or as essential workers. Some face isolation, others face fear, but almost everyone is facing some form of uncertainty about the future.

Relapse can be triggered by stress, fear, isolation and boredom, and the coronavirus pandemic is causing all of these feelings to arise. As a result, people in recovery are facing higher risks of relapse and some experts believe Americans will begin to turn to substance use to cope.

For people who regularly attend recovery support meetings, a change in routine can increase unease and make it harder to cope. Groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon provide a sense of structure to people in long-term recovery. Members attend weekly meetings to encourage one another, share experiences and foster a sense of togetherness. Unfortunately, stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations have made it difficult or impossible to attend in-person meetings. Many support groups are shifting to online platforms to fill this void as best they can.

How to Find Help During the Pandemic

Because of social distancing measures across the country, telehealth services and online recovery resources are perhaps more important than ever. Many recovery groups have moved to online platforms, allowing people to connect and continue weekly support meetings remotely.

The Recovery Village has a free meetings platform for support groups, where users can host and participate in anonymous, online recovery meetings in real time through video chat. Here is an easy how-to guide to get started.

In addition to support groups, maintaining therapy appointments can help keep someone on the path to long term recovery. The Nobu teletherapy app allows people struggling with addiction to receive one-on-one or group counseling and treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions, all online. Clients are matched with a licensed professional who creates a personalized treatment plan for recovery at home.

We also offer a wealth of free addiction and recovery-related information that can help people identify signs of substance abuse, learn coping techniques and find helpful resources.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, our evidence-based treatment facilities remain open during the coronavirus outbreak. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans and other resources that can work well for your needs, including teletherapy options.

a man wearing a blue and white striped shirt.
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
a woman wearing glasses and a blazer.
Medically Reviewed By – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indi[…]in the United States.” 2019. Accessed April 14, 2020.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “COVID-19: Potential Implications for Ind[…]stance Use Disorders.” April 6, 2020. Accessed April 14, 2020.

National Institutes of Health. “NIDA Director outlines potential risks t[…]ng COVID-19 pandemic.” April 2, 2020. April 14, 2020.

Sganga, Nicole. “How the coronavirus is hurting drug and alcohol recovery.” CBS News, April 3, 2020. Accessed April 14, 2020.

Zarroli, Jim. “Jobs Carnage Mounts: 17 Million File For[…]mployment In 3 Weeks.” NPR, April 9, 2020. Accessed April 14, 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.

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