Addiction, Substance Use and Recovery during the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • COVID-19 related social isolation and stress can increase susceptibility to substance misuse, addiction, and relapse.
  • Substance use can lead to immune system, respiratory, and pulmonary changes and may increase susceptibility to COVID-19 as well as complications.
  • A number of remote resources are available to help assist individuals and loved ones.

During these uncertain times, those who misuse or abuse alcohol and/or other drugs, are particularly vulnerable. The stress from social isolation and other COVID-19 related life changes can lead to or worsen substance use and misuse. There are also health risks resulting from chronic alcohol/drug use as it weakens the immune system and puts stress on the body’s cardiovascular and respiratory systems. 


Alcohol consumption weakens the immune system and can increase the susceptibility to certain infectious diseases. For individuals who are dependent on alcohol, restricted access could lead to symptoms of withdraw. Alcohol withdraw can be fatal if not managed properly.


Smoking or snorting cocaine causes changes in the brain that results in constriction within the vascular system (arteries, veins, capillaries), and can lead to severe damage of the lung and respiratory system. Smoking cocaine can lead to many complications to the lungs such as swelling, hemorrhages, pulmonary edema, bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema.

Opioids and Methamphetamines

When opioids are taken at high doses, they act on the brainstem to slow breathing, which leads to decreased oxygen in the blood (hypoxemia). This puts opioid users at risk of an overdose, and is why opioids are particularly dangerous and often fatal. Methamphetamine use is particularly dangerous because it constricts the blood vessels, which can lead to pulmonary damage and hypertension.

Smoking and Vaping

We know that when you smoke or vape either tobacco or marijuana, you are at risk for health consequences such as cancer and lung damage. In addition to smoking, emerging evidence suggests that vaping causes damage to lung cells and inflammation to lung tissue. This reduces the ability for the lungs to respond to infection. Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs, smoking and vaping may pose serious risks to those who contract COVID-19.

Addiction and Stress

People with addiction also have depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. During COVID-19, the constant flow of stressful news may lead to increased feelings of worry, anxiety, and stress. Although turning to alcohol and/or drugs may temporarily help you feel better, they cause changes in your brain that will make you feel worse. It is imperative that you seek out healthy activities that will help alleviate stress/anxiety/depression. Take a break from the news and social media. Watch a comedy, read a book, explore a relaxation or deep breathing app, or call a friend.

Be Prepared

Addiction thrives on secrecy and loves to catch people off-guard. It can progress quickly, especially during COVID-19 social isolation. If you’re dealing with strong cravings or relapse, contact your provider immediately and, if possible, include your family or close friend. Ask about medication to treat your symptoms, a plan for refills, and also ask about options such as urgent or emergency services, as well as the risks of going to the local emergency department.

Many providers are offering virtual visits via web chat or phone. For your next appointment, check the website of the clinic to find out if a policy for visits is in place. If you call by telephone, expect a wait time. If you’re one of our patients, you can send a non-urgent message to your provider through the patient portal.

We have compiled a list of Coronavirus COVID-19 Addiction/Recovery Resources to help support you during this trying time. The list includes free 24 hour helplines and text lines, online mutual support group meetings (AA, NA, etc.), and other helpful resources. Together, we will get through this.