by: Andrew Winkler
SAN MARCOS, TX- The Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing quarantine had far reaching effects across the globe. One such effect was a massive spike in substance abuse and substance abuse related deaths.
Quarantine shut down Alcoholics Anonymous meetings everywhere, forcing the meetings to move to Zoom. In addition, work and universities shut down, and unemployment checks started being sent out. People were left at home with a surplus of money, nowhere to be, nobody checking in on them, and no meetings to go to.
2020 saw the highest number of drug overdoses ever recorded in a calendar year, according to the CDC. 2021 is on pace to have an even higher number of drug overdoses. In 2020, there were over 90,000 deaths attributed to opioid use in the United States alone. Almost 5,000,000 new users were introduced to alcohol abuse in 2020. The below graphics depicted the drug abuse in 2020.
Zack Plyler is the director of outpatient services at The Last Resort Recovery, a substance abuse treatment center in Smithville, Texas. Plyler commented on the increase in client enrollment at The Last Resort during quarantine.
“Personally, our company has had back-to-back record years, and not by a small amount. This year we’ve grown by over 400%,” said Plyler.
Not only was there a large amount of new users introduced to substance abuse, but those in active recovery also suffered. Pre-existing support systems for those with time in active recovery disappeared. Recovery completely changed in a short span of time.
“The entire substance abuse industry reported a influx of men and women who had been sober of periods of time, and then due to the insolation in quarantine, they fell back out, and had to go back to treatment,” said Plyler. “Personally, I saw several people with several years sober that relapsed and passed away from drug overdose. I think some of the implications that had to do with that were support systems basically became virtually non-existent. There wasn’t a bunch of in-person connection,” said Plyler.
Listen to the full interview with Zack Plyler, and fellow Last Resort employee Jack Staub here:
Fellowship is a cornerstone of the Alcoholics Anonymous program for recovering from substance abuse addiction. Staub talked about the stressors that can contribute to a potential relapse.
“[Quarantine placed a] double emphasis on all the things that make addicts relapse in recovery anyways. The isolation, loneliness, lack of community, lack of purpose” said Staub. “It was extra weight of all the things we imagine that would take us out personified on a massive level,” said Staub.
Staub is currently a resident assistant at The Last Resort, where he’s encountered clients who dealt with active addiction during the quarantine.
Photos from the inside of a sober house. Bedroom, open AA book, bookshelf with AA book. Photographer: Andrew Winkler
The above photographs are a good example of what a traditional Alcoholics Anonymous room and sober house looks like. The chairs are placed so close they are almost touching, and doctrine from the program covers the walls.
The official Alcoholics Anonymous website says “Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem.” The intrinsic connection between one member and another creates an intimate safe space for healing, according to members like Adam Springer, employee at Infinite Recovery.
“I was going to meetings, had happy sobriety, and then Covid hit, and everything stopped,” Springer said.
Listen to the full interview with Springer below:
“It was a bad time for everybody. But especially the alcoholic addict. I really feel for those people. Thank God I was able to go get sober during the pandemic through a treatment center. And that’s really what saved my life,” said Springer. “I know that there are a lot of people that are still out there and still dying,” said Springer.
Springer went to The Last Resort Recovery in-patient treatment center, and was able to re-enter active recovery. Treatment centers like The Last Resort require a Covid test to enter, and has been able to stay open during the pandemic.
Meetings are now open in many parts of the United States, but the CDC is still predicting 2021 to outpace 2020 in deaths related to drug overdoses.