January 01, 2021

Substance use disorder

Keep away from danger during stay-at-home times.

Staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic means being at home more and interacting with others less or from a distance. Doing the right thing during the pandemic can present additional health challenges related to loneliness and feeling disconnected.

Substance use disorders — an unhealthy dependence on alcohol, illicit drugs or medications — were already a serious problem among older people even prior to the current stay-at-home practices. But the issue appears to be more widespread due to increased isolation, loss of daily structures and routines, and economic stress brought on by the pandemic. Studies show an increase in how much and how frequently Americans are drinking, although the increase seems to be mostly among adults under age 60.

A gradual process

Using alcohol or other mood-altering substances to celebrate or relieve stress is an age-old human habit. However, overusing unhealthy substances with addictive qualities as a coping mechanism during difficult times can have consequences. As with many diseases, substance use disorders don't occur suddenly, but build over time.

No matter how you start using a substance — whether it's taking a legitimate prescription pain medication or having a beer at the end of the day — your use may gradually increase, particularly if you are stressed or bored at home without much to do. As time passes, you may need larger doses of the substance to get the same effect. As your use increases, you may need it just to feel normal — or you may find that it's increasingly difficult to go without. Attempts...