Substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic

Many of us are at home right now and not driving as much. Combine that with boredom, and maybe feeling anxious and overwhelmed, and it has many turning to substances like alcohol and drugs to cope.

We talked with providers from Sheridan Health Services, a University of Colorado College of Nursing run clinic, on Facebook Live.

Dr. Tanya Sorrell, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and Nicole Teel, a licensed addiction counselor and licensed professional counselor joined us to answer questions and also demonstrate a telehealth counseling session. Providers are using virtual visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do you know when your substance use is a problem?

When it comes to drinking Dr. Tanya Sorrell said that when you are using a substance to cope, it’s a problem, “What we notice too is when we’re stressed, when we’re anxious, or sad, we might drink more to try to alleviate or decrease those emotions. That’s when we see what’s more problem drinking. We’re using alcohol to cope, but that’s a really bad coping skill.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends no more than 4 drinks per week and for men no more than 7. So even if you’re drinking just one drink a day, you’re in the moderate drinking range, “That can have problems both physically and with your mental and emotional health,” Dr. Sorrell added.

Signs you are using substances in an unhealthy way

If your substance use is affecting relationships in a negative way, your use has increased or your tolerance has built up – those are all signs that your use may be becoming a problem, “Things like this can signify someone could potentially be diagnosed with a substance use disorder,” explained licensed counselor Nicole Teel.

“Be in tune with some of the consequences you’re seeing with your substance use,” she added.

Pay close attention to your use patterns and the patterns of those around you, “What are the whys behind their use?” said Teel.

Is someone using 4-5 times per day just to alleviate stress? Underlying anxiety and depression is still going to resurface later on, “The other piece I would say is paying attention to mood,” Teel said.

She also suggested using alternative coping skills such as self-talk. Question why you are using before you use a substance. She also suggested being able to use mindfulness with that self-talk and ask yourself if you really need that substance.

Effects of moderate drinking on your health

Even moderate alcohol use can affect your heart and cause difficulties with your kidneys. It also decreases concentration and increases issues with depression.

The American Heart Association defines moderate drinking as one drink a day for women and two drinks or less per day for men.

9Health Expert, Dr. Payal Kohli, is a cardiologist in addition to being an internal medicine doctor, “We know from that from the perspective of the heart, alcohol use can raise your triglycerides and raise your blood pressure. It can lower your immune system response and cause early-onset dementia and vitamin deficiencies,” said Dr. Kohli.

Our bodies are also metabolizing things differently as we sit at home. All things to think about before reaching for that beer in the evening or glass of wine.

What can you do?

Our experts recommended that during this time you try to keep to a routine as much as possible. Get up and get ready for work. Use social distancing but take a walk on your break from work. Exercise regularly and try to eat healthy. Keep your life as close to your normal as you can.

When you realize you are anxious or stressed, use some of the other coping skills instead of reaching for a substance like alcohol.

If you are dealing with anxiety and depression or aren’t sure if you are – take a free, anonymous screening on our website, click here.

You can also reach out to providers at Sheridan Health Services. They are using telehealth right now to counsel patients, click here.

Additional resources:

Colorado Crisis Services

Denver Area Central Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous