Substance abuse disorder is a type of illness that makes the brain unable to control the need to consume legal or illegal drugs. These drugs may be in the form of recreational drugs or gateway drugs such as alcohol and nicotine. It has been reported that one in 10 seniors is an alcoholic and that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in people of age 65 and above. Smoking is also common in the older demographic: eight in 100 adults. Sadly, it is hard to treat substance abuse in the elderly as some of these cases are undetected.
Why is there an influx of alcohol consumption?
In the current situation, the impact of COVID-19 can cause extra stress and burden that can gravely affect one’s mental health. Even though the implementation of social distancing and lockdowns caused the drug traffic to go down, it has also resulted in the use of more accessible substances and alcohol.
In return, the result of stressors caused by the pandemic enables people to turn to substance use. A study published last July 2020 reports that health measures imposed during the pandemic (social distancing, isolation, digitalization) are often associated with negative emotions. Because of this, people who have abstained from substances may it be licit or illicit, are more inclined to relapse. Times of distress are primarily the reason people cope with the use of substances. It is an accessible and easy solution that can relieve stress quickly.
Myths about alcohol consumption preventing the virus were being spread, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. This puts the elderly at a greater risk for COVID-19, as constant alcohol consumption can slow down the body’s immune system, making the elderly more vulnerable to the disease. So why do elderly who suffer from alcoholism need alcohol withdrawal management?
How do we alleviate the problem?
For some countries, alcohol bans have were implemented. This strategy helps prevent high alcohol consumption and is beneficial for alcoholics who are at risk of experiencing relapses. But many countries do not have this alcohol ban which enables people to get access to alcohol.
Substance abuse is not an efficient way of coping with problems and stress. It may seem like a short-term solution. But the risks associated with it show to be more damaging rather than beneficial, especially for the elderly who are already compromised and at an elevated health risk. Too much alcohol consumption for the elderly can cause a loss of balance and even falls that puts them to risk of injuries such as fractures and concussions. Not to mention that increased alcohol consumption can be bad for the liver too.
Are there resources to help us handle the situation?
To prevent alcoholics from relapsing to alcohol consumption again, or any substance use for that matter, it is a must to monitor their consumption regularly. Going to therapy helps a lot when it comes to alcoholism. It is often coupled with the use of cognitive-behavioral techniques that will help them stay sober. People who do not have access to a therapist can still keep themselves sober and in check with the use of resources that can be found online.
CDC and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provide insights into and materials on ways of coping with a relapse. Creating new habits that help relieve stress can also help redirect one’s cravings for alcohol. Meditation and working out are also helpful ways of reducing the need to drink alcohol.
If you’re living with a loved one who struggles with alcohol consumption, you must hold them accountable and support them through their journey of trying to stay sober. Substance use and alcoholism in themselves already face a big problem of stigmatization and are often shown in a bad light. It is important to encourage a healthy and supportive relationship with someone who struggles to cope with alcoholism.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 brings a lot of challenges to people’s mental health. But the use of substances as the means to cope with these problems is not a good idea. If anything, it can be the start of many more or even worse problems.
It is important to prioritize your health and well-being, especially when you are at a higher risk of contracting severe symptoms of the coronavirus. It is also helpful to remember that problems caused by the pandemic are temporary and that things will go back to normal, considering that we already have the technology and the science to combat the virus.