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Substance abuse during the time of Covid19

Justin Nielsen

Justin Nielsen, Licensed Professional Counselor, MA, LPC, LAC, QMHP, CFRC

Here you are. You’ve been stuck in your house for a few days. You’re feeling anxious about a confirmed case. Maybe you’re feeling depressed about possibly spreading it to others. You go to your go to: Alcohol. Typically, you drink on the weekends, maybe with friends or a family. This time it’s different. It’s 2pm on a Tuesday and all you’ve been doing is watching Netflix. You drink the afternoon away and you’re asleep by 8pm. Wednesday rolls around, you think to yourself, “That was kind of nice” so you do it again.

This could be an extreme for some, but maybe not for all. So much of the difficulty with substance abuse, is that it sneaks up on you. Nobody ever knowingly decides to abuse alcohol or drugs, or knowingly becomes addicted. There’s often an allure to it, it feeds a need of some sort. What we see in the hypothetical scenario above is boredom, loneliness, and fear. Often, substances are a coping skill that work reasonably well, for the time being. Until it doesn’t.

How does a therapist differentiate when a substance becomes a problem from casual use? When it causes problems, when it isolates you even farther, when it impacts those around you. You may fall deeper into that pit of despair, fear, anxiety and depression, all the things you’ve been trying to avoid. Some of the questions I ask in order to examine the impact of substances are:

  • Does it have a negative impact socially, with friends and family? Maybe there are increased arguments, or there’s avoidance where there has been relationship.
  • How does it impact your health? For some, alcohol or drugs may not be the primary concern, but do they make medical issues worse?
  • Does it impact your employment in some way? Maybe you wake up hungover, you’re running late, or you may call in sick. You’re likely not working at 100% productivity.
  • How does it impact your mental health? For some people, they will use alcohol to deal with depression. Alcohol may make you feel more willing to hang out with friends, try new things, and feel a little more upbeat for the time being. However, alcohol will eventually make you feel a greater sense of depression.

Rather than absentmindedly going straight to the substance, try asking yourself these questions:

  • What’s my motivation to use this drug, or drink this alcohol?
  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • How am I feeling physically and emotionally?
  • What are some circumstances in life where I may feel more tempted to drink or use drugs?
  • What are others saying or noticing about my substance use?

These questions won’t diagnose a problem. In fact, it isn’t about NOT using the substances at all. It’s about being more aware of yourself. Taking a critical look at patterns, behaviors, and consequences. If you find yourself struggling with depression, anxiety, or some form of substance abuse, maybe it’s time to reach out. Clinicians with Renew Counseling Services can offer telehealth therapy, as well as completing treatment needs assessments, individual sessions, couples or family counseling. Feel free to give us a call for a free consultation to examine if our services could be right for you.