The Covid-19 pandemic has caused disruption across the globe in various forms. While the tragic number of fatalities and the economic impact of the virus are headline news every day, the effect which the pandemic is having on people with addiction problems has been far less documented, there has been a huge rise in attendance at alcohol rehab over the year. 

The enormous stress which people are under manifests itself in different ways, but for those with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it can further exacerbate their dependency. Addiction often leads to isolation and secretive behaviour, but with everyone being forced to socially distance, it can be harder than ever to notice addictive behaviour in our loved ones. Jason Shiers – Certified Psychotherapist and Transformative Coach at UK Addiction Treatment says “To help you detect the warning signs in your friends and family, here is what you need to know to recognize addiction during the pandemic.”

Spotting the physical signs of addiction

When talking to your loved one over video chat or in your bubble, you can look out for altered speech, unusual behaviour, or physical signs of substance abuse. 

Many drug users have certain tics or gestures, depending on what kind of drugs they have taken. Cocaine often causes people to sniff a lot and wipe their nose, while ecstasy causes people to grind their teeth or lick their lips. When someone has drunk alcohol to excess, they may have slurred speech, while other substances can result in rapid or incoherent talking. You may also be able to notice excessive sweating or tremors, which could also be signs of substance use.

Spotting the behavioural signs of addiction

As well as physical signs, you may be able to notice behavioural or personality changes as a result of your loved one’s addiction. Drug and excessive alcohol use can cause people to become moody or withdrawn. It can also result in them reacting excessively emotionally due to chemical imbalances caused by the substances in their system. Some behavioural changes may also be due to a lack of sleep as many commonly used drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy can keep the person up for days on end. 

If you notice someone being particularly withdrawn, there may a deeper problem than them finding lockdown tiresome.

Staying in regular contact with your loved ones

If you have a loved one who has a previous issue with addiction or who may not be coping well with the pressures of the pandemic, it is crucial that you stay in regular contact with them to help them recognize addiction. There has been a huge surge in mental health problems since the beginning of the pandemic, and for some people, drugs or alcohol are used as a coping mechanism. 

Plan a regular time to chat to your loved ones via an online platform, such as Zoom or Skype, so that they don’t feel isolated or left to suffer alone. Human connection is incredibly important for people with an addiction, and so keeping in regular contact with your friends and family is vital for their mental wellbeing and increases their confidence that talking about getting help will be met with support. If you can form a bubble safely, try to physically spend time with anyone who you are worried may be having a hard time. You may be able to spot signs which you couldn’t see over video chat, such as the smell of alcohol on their breath or empty bottles and drug paraphernalia.

Talking to your loved ones about their addiction

If you recognise any of the signs above, it is so important that you broach the subject carefully. Ask them about how they are generally coping and see if they volunteer any information which confirms your worries. Just having you there to talk to may provide the impetus they need to admit that they are struggling. 

While some NHS rehab services have been disrupted by the pandemic, most private addiction treatment centres remain open. There are many people who may want to get treatment and recognize addiction but feel like they don’t have the time with work and other commitments. If there is any silver lining about the Covid-19 situation, it is that we all have more time on our hands, so this may be the perfect time to seek help. Remember, addiction treatment centres are essential healthcare, which means they remain open and safe to attend during the lockdown.

These are incredibly hard times for us all, and it is so important that we look after each other. If you have a friend or someone in your family who you think may be struggling to recognize addiction, then it’s important to look out for the warning signs and try to help in any way you can. There are real indications that the world may soon be able to return to some kind of normality. But until then, we need to support each other as much as possible.