COVID-19’s Effect on Substance Abuse in Canada
Across the country, COVID-19 has impacted every facet of life, especially the vulnerable within the population. The ripple effect of the pandemic on people struggling with drug addiction spread throughout Canada. When the government in Canada began to take drastic steps to curb the spread of the disease, millions of Canadians were forced into isolation. Moreover, millions of Canadians lost their jobs or were financially displaced. The stress from the pandemic and government restrictions caused increased use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, deterioration in chronic health problems, fear and worry, creating more stress and depression among the Canadian population.
According to a study looking at the risk factors for elevated anxiety in young people amid COVID—early risk factors were identified that predicted heightened anxiety in young adults during the pandemic. The study’s findings could help predict who is at the greatest risk of developing anxiety during stressful life events in early adulthood. Overall, heightened stress and anxiety were seen among every demographic across the country. “Someone who is struggling with ongoing stress and anxiety often turns to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping,” said Marcel Gemme of Drug Rehab Services.
The COVID-19 pandemic and social restrictions have caused insurmountable psychological damage on Canadians, particularly those with substance use disorders. One study looking at COVID-19 and addiction pointed out that people with a substance use disorder are at a greater risk of worse COVID-19 outcomes. There has been a surge in addictive behavior, withdrawal emergencies, and drug-related deaths. Addicted individuals are also facing difficulties in accessing the healthcare services they needed making them more prone to overdose and addiction.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened an already ongoing health crisis of opioid overdoses and death. Between April and June 2020, 1,628 apparent opioid toxicity deaths occurred, and this was a 58% increase compared to January through March 2020. In 2020, 97% of apparent opioid toxicity deaths were accidental or unintentional. Unfortunately, many people died from a drug overdose because of the limited access to drug treatment services. According to the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction, there was a substantial decrease in substance use treatment availability and capacity.
The decrease in these services, among other factors, led to many people returning to or engaging in higher-risk substance use and growing wait times for many services across the country. Moreover, the delivery of care for addiction shifted rapidly to virtual, and the availability of this care was not equitably distributed. Between the first week of March and the first week of April 2020, there was a 70% decrease in the total number of admissions to treatment services in Ontario, for example. Some jurisdictions implemented interim support services to help clients, yet these changes were not enough to compensate for healthcare disruptions.
Going into 2021 and as the government continues with social restrictions, COVID-19 related stresses are continuing to disproportionately impact people with a history of substance abuse. A new Leger poll indicated that there had been a sharp rise in those experiencing anxiety, depression, and addiction among the general population. Between October and December of 2020, one-third of survey respondents reported drinking more alcohol than usual since the start of the pandemic. Respondents with past or current mental health issues indicated both increased substance use and more problematic substance use. Among the general population, two in five Canadians who use cannabis reported consuming more since March 2020.
“There is an increasing number of people needing help for drug addiction because of the pandemic and social restrictions,” said Marcel Gemme, of Drug Rehab Services, “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on so many health concerns for everyone, and people struggling with addiction are at an increased risk.” Support networks across the country have been strained, and people being alone with little to no social interaction is more likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Addiction continues to be an issue for millions of Canadians, and the problems have been exacerbated because of the pandemic.