It’s natural to feel more stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s important to seek relief using healthy coping mechanisms rather than turning to alcohol or other substances.
According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of Americans are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression amid the pandemic, double the number reported in 2014.
And a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in May found nearly all respondents reported feeling stressed about the virus’s contagiousness and the uncertainty surrounding social distancing. But younger people, sexual minorities and those who were financially unstable said they were more likely to use alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.
While it’s common for people to have an occasional drink to unwind, some people may find themselves inclined to lean too heavily on substances as a means to manage stress.
Twenty percent of people who responded to an Addiction Policy Forum survey said they or a family member have increased substance use since the pandemic began.
“Most things are fine in moderation. The problem is that some of us can’t stop at moderation,” says Dr. Victor Archambeau, a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island.
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Dr. Archambeau can relate on a personal level. Dr. Archambeau overcame substance use dependency himself and now actively incorporates recovery into his medical practice. Physicians routinely refer patients with substance-use concerns to Dr. Archambeau, who serves as medical director of Faces and Voices of Recovery Grand Strand, a group that promotes long-term recovery from substance use disorder through support, education and advocacy.
“The stress of isolation and quarantining has really taken its toll, not just on those in recovery, but on the population as a whole,” he says.
While virtual cocktail hours with friends can provide valuable social interaction and help people manage COVID 19-related stress, Dr. Archambeau says you must remain keenly aware of your consumption and habits.
“If friends or family members begin questioning your behavior or complaining about your use, if you are waking up in the morning feeling bad about the day before or guilty about your behavior, those are early signs that say you need to be looking for help,” he says.
Instead of turning to alcohol or other substances for stress relief, Dr. Archambeau encourages people to look to healthy coping mechanisms such as regular exercise, yoga and meditation. He also says it’s critical to get enough sleep and eat a well-balanced diet.
“Find something you enjoy that helps take your mind somewhere else rather than focusing on the stress you’re experiencing,” Dr. Archambeau says. “That can be different for everyone – sometimes it’s as simple as immersing yourself into a good book.”
New set of challenges
For people already in recovery, the pandemic has created a new set of challenges.
Given COVID 19-related restrictions, many in-person recovery support resources, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, have changed formats. Many meetings are now conducted virtually using apps such as Zoom, Facetime or Skype, Dr. Archambeau says.
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However, Dr. Archambeau says, those meetings simply don’t offer the same level of support as in-person meetings, which has prompted some people to fall back into dependency.
“People have found themselves without a support system and are falling back into old habits to alleviate stress. Of course, that doesn’t work,” Dr. Archambeau says. “The key for the recovery population is to stay connected and reach out through telephone calls, texts or any type of online resource.”
Now that things are opening back up, Dr. Archambeau says many churches and facilities that host meetings are allowing groups to meet in parking lots and outdoor locations where there’s less risk of spreading the virus.
If you think you have a substance use disorder, consult your physician for help, Dr. Archambeau says, and explore resources online. Websites for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery list support meetings, whether in-person or virtual, and Face and Voices of Recovery Grand Strand can also help people find needed support.
Dr. Victor Archambeau
Family Medicine Physician, Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island
Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Victor Archambeau provides care at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island.Learn More
- University of South Carolina School of Medicine
- McLeod Regional Medical Center
- American Board of Family Medicine
Meet the Expert
Dr. Victor Archambeau
Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Victor Archambeau provides care at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island.