Coronavirus, schmoronavirus: Five reasons why you should seek addiction treatment now
In the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there may not seem to be any reasons why you should seek addiction treatment now.
It’s understandable. Everything seems so … surreal at the moment. One moment, life is completely normal, and the next, you’re grocery shopping at 3 a.m. wearing a medical mask and rubber gloves for protection.
Of course, those are precautions being taken by those who aren’t suffering from addiction or alcoholism. Addicts and alcoholics have much more pressing needs, even during the COVID-19 outbreak: how to maintain a habit that’s taken precedent over everything else in life, from friends to family to personal well-being.
Addiction and alcoholism are chronic, progressive and, if left untreated, fatal illnesses. While there’s an acute emphasis on COVID-19 at the moment, and understandably so, those other diseases continue to claim lives. It’s estimated  that one American dies every 11 minutes in this country from a drug overdose, and deaths by alcohol-related causes are even worse: 10 an hour, or every 6 minutes. 
And neither one of them calls a time out because of the coronavirus.
So what’s an addict or an alcoholic to do? Are there any reasons to seek addiction treatment now? Yes — absolutely there are, and we’ve got five good ones ready for you.
You’re putting your life in danger — even more than normal
Let’s face it; there’s a certain amount of risk that comes with active addiction, whether it’s the impending threat of an overdose from a fentanyl-laced point of heroin to staggering into traffic when you’re blackout drunk. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, takes an otherwise risky situation and amplifies it, according to NBC’s Bay Area affiliate :
“According to substance abuse experts at CA Bridge, an Oakland arm of the Public Health Institute, people who use drugs are doubly at risk during this pandemic, not only from overdose but also from increased risk of infection. Medical mobilization to address the COVID-19 coronavirus is leading to shifts in health care that may inadvertently make accessing treatment for addiction even harder.”
Serena Clayton, the program director at CA Bridge, put it bluntly in that interview: “There's no way you can sit at home and endure this. Everything about the way the human brain and body works will prioritize seeking relief, whether that means showing up in a crowded ER or finding drugs on the street," she said.
In other words: Addiction drives desperation, and when starving dopamine receptors are screaming to be fed, the individual whose brain is under assault from itself is willing to throw caution to the wind to get the drugs he or she needs. Addiction doesn’t respect shelter-in-place orders or quarantine measures, and neither do those afflicted with it, leading them to put themselves and others at risk.
Five reasons why you should seek addiction treatment now: A safe, sterile environment
A reputable drug and alcohol treatment center is a medical facility, albeit one that provides care not deemed medically urgent. In other words, it’s not an emergency room where potentially infected individuals come to recent treatment for, among other things, COVID-19. Facilities that provide a full continuum of drug and alcohol treatment — from Medical Detox to Residential Inpatient to Intensive Outpatient (IOP) to Sober Living — have medical staff in place to treat not only those patients, but to provide guidance, guidelines and rules that protects their patient populations from the coronavirus.
Dr. Lipi Roy, writing for Forbes , outlines several protocols that addiction treatment centers can put into place to safeguard their communities, including:
- Pre-arrival screenings that addresses patient symptoms, exposures and recent travel, and advises sick patients to wait before admitting;
- Signs posted about hand hygiene and cough etiquette and that encourage social distancing;
- Social distancing measures put into place for 12 Step facilitation and IOP programs;
- Telehealth implementation to conduct non-residential groups and meetings in the digital space; and
- “Last but certainly not least, every facility needs to implement widespread disinfection of surfaces such as doorknobs, desks, kitchen tables, stairwell handles, elevator buttons, etc. Patients and staff need to wash hands with soap and water regularly; and facilities need to make hand sanitizer widely available.”
These are unprecedented times,” Roy writes. “But I remain optimistic: with widespread implementation of social distancing, hand hygiene, cough/sneeze etiquette and the other precautions laid out by the CDC and WHO, we’ll be able to flatten the curve and provide a safe environment for ALL members of our local and global communities.”
Your supply is in jeopardy
Need more reasons why you should seek addiction treatment now? Maintaining a steady supply of drugs to which an individual is addicted is no easy task in the best of times, but with the coronavirus impacting the entire world, drug traffickers aren’t immune. Even if your dealer hasn’t been affected yet, chances are he or she will be.
“There hasn’t really been an impact on supplies because the drought hasn't hit yet, but there will be one I think,” one dealer, “Nev,” told the online publication Vice  recently. “Importing will be harder. I can see it happening soon. I’ll have to start watering it down or charging more. The people I buy off will do the same.”
It’s important to remember that while it’s a public health crisis, addiction is also driven by the simple economic rules of supply and demand. While public officials have taken steps to reassure the public that the supply chain of consumer goods is intact, even if there are shortages on store shelves due to panic buying, the illicit drug trade isn’t so steady, according to one story on the New Zealand news media website Stuff : “With borders closed, the supply and distribution of drugs will be disrupted. Drug mules won't be able to take flights, and a downturn in world trade on the foot of Covid-19 may result in less container traffic.”
In other words: If you’re an addict, and you can’t get the drugs you need to maintain your habit because of a global pandemic, it’s an additional incentive to seek addiction treatment.
Five reasons why should you seek addiction treatment now: It’s the Insurance
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, many insurance companies have taken steps to expand coverage or extend benefits around COVID-19 related claims, according to CNBC : “Health insurer Cigna will waive co-pays or cost-shares for COVID-19 testing on many plans. Aetna, which is owned by CVS Health, also said it will waive co-pays for ‘all diagnostic testing related to COVID-19’ and that meets CDC guidelines. UnitedHealthGroup said it will waive member cost sharing, including copays, coinsurance and deductibles for COVID-19 diagnostic testing provided at approved locations in accordance with CDC guidelines for all commercial insured, Medicaid and Medicare members.”
However, as KHOU-TV — Houston’s CBS affiliate — points out , that also includes loosening restrictions by some companies on the behavioral health benefits that pay for addiction treatment, especially those that can be provided digitally, as many Intensive Outpatient services are during the ongoing pandemic:
- “BlueCross BlueShield Of Tennessee will cover virtual visits with in-network providers at the same benefit levels as in-person visits. This change includes primary care providers, specialists and behavioral health providers with this capability.”
- “For telemedicine accessed through a CareFirst Video Visit, copays, coinsurance, and deductibles will be waived for the duration of this public health emergency — including behavioral health, lactation support, nutrition counseling and urgent care services.”
- “Magellan (Health) will permit all credentialed and contracted behavioral health providers to conduct telehealth video sessions for all routine services and certain psychological testing, applied behavior analysis (ABA), intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and partial hospitalization program (PHP) services.”
- “Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield is offering virtual health care visits for all appropriate medical and behavioral health visits at no cost to members until June 16.”
If you don’t see your insurance provider here, that doesn’t mean they’re not waiving coverage requirements during this crisis. It’s important to call the number on your health insurance card to discuss what benefits you may be eligible for, because if your company is willing to make exceptions in light of COVID-19, then add that to the list of reasons why you should seek addiction treatment now.
Mental Health Treatment — For Addiction, and Your Coronavirus Blues
Granted, a great many addicts and alcoholics live in an insular bubble, because everything is secondary to the getting, using and finding ways and means to get more. During normal times, they may keep up with the latest headlines if they happen to scroll social media, but days, weeks or even months can pass without a clue about what the latest social or political topic du jour is.
These, however, aren’t “normal times.” Everyone is impacted, and the closure of non-essential businesses, the shortage of consumer goods and the increasingly dire infection and death numbers are on everyone’s minds, addicts and alcoholics included. And they’re starting to take a toll: “Psychologists and psychiatrists are beginning to report signs of distress among patients worried about the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a March 20 report from the news organization Reuters . “Stress caused by fear of the disease is compounded by isolation, mental health experts say, as governments close schools and restaurants, and recommend that people limit social interaction.”
But here’s the thing about addiction treatment: It’s not solely about stopping the use of alcohol and drugs. A reputable drug and alcohol treatment center “features such important stress management components as cognitive restructuring, coping skills, and problem-solving skills,” according to an article in the peer-reviewed journal Alcohol Research: Current Reviews . “For example, cognitive restructuring teaches people to interpret events, attitudes, and feelings in a rational way and to respond constructively to a crisis or stressful situation. Similarly, problem-solving skills training teach patients to analyze problem situations and act constructively rather than impulsively.”
In other words, effective drug and alcohol treatment does so much more than helping addicts and alcoholics put down the chemicals that are poisoning them. It’s an examination of maladaptive coping skills, environmental stressors, family of origin issues and a multitude of other components that can contribute to deteriorating mental health, which can in turn lead to drug and alcohol use in an attempt to self-medicate.
The growing concern over COVID-19 certainly qualifies as one such stressor. While drug and alcohol treatment won’t have entire classes, lectures or therapy sessions about coronavirus, it will provide tools that patients can implement into their own lives to cope with such stress. In the simplest of terms, recovery teaches individuals who suffer from addiction how to handle “life on life’s terms,” to borrow a popular recovery saying, so that whatever takes place externally doesn’t necessitate a need for internal relief via alcohol and drugs.
Five Reasons Why You Should Seek Addiction Treatment Now: To Save Your Life
As if those five weren’t enough, think about it this way: If you’re an addict or an alcoholic, then despite your best efforts to control your use or stop on your own, you’ve probably found it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do so. That doesn’t mean you’re weak or bad or of poor moral character; you’re simply ill. You have a disease, so defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine : “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
Among those “harmful consequences,” as statistics indicate, is death. In other words, your addiction or alcoholism has a very good chance of killing you. That’s not melodrama or hyperbole; that’s reality. The In considering reasons why you should seek addiction treatment now, the question then becomes: Are the chances of dying as an addict or an alcoholic greater than those of dying from coronavirus?
Yes, COVID-19 is a serious illness … but so is addiction. If you’re looking for reasons why you should seek addiction treatment now, please keep that in mind — because the longer you wait, the greater your chances of succumbing to the latter grow.