Stay at home orders, restrictions have led to a spike in addiction, expert says

New numbers about COVID-19 illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths are released every day. But the pandemic has created another health care crisis.

Stay at home orders, social distancing and restrictions on gatherings that are meant to keep people safe from the coronavirus have led to a spike in addiction.

The things Minnesotans in recovery rely on to stay sober were taken away from them overnight.

Hayden Wolf grew up in a happy family and life was good until he started using alcohol and drugs as a teenager. He overdosed on heroin four times and nearly died. He’d get sober, then relapse. The vicious cycle went on for years.

Last fall Hayden made a desperate call for help from his car.

"I had been living in the parking lot of a Target in Woodbury for going on four or so days," he said. "And I had less than a quarter tank of gas and about $5 in my pocket."

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Hayden reached out to Drew Horowitz and Associates in St. Paul and got the services he needed to get sober. But life for an addict is day to day and moment to moment.

Then the pandemic happened.

"And I noticed immediately a lot of my resources in the community were cut off," Wolf said.

The coronavirus put people in recovery in a bind because there was uncertainty about finding therapy sessions and support groups.

"Overnight it was changed to stay six feet away, stay sterilized, keep your mask on," Wolf said. "And I just didn’t have the support."

Wolf says he then had a relapse in May.

"I had hit a point where I had been cut-off from my social support. I had lost a couple friends recently to addiction and I felt kind of hopeless," he said.

Business is booming for Drew Horowitz, but that’s a symptom of a serious problem. Since the pandemic began, he’s had so many calls from people fighting addiction he’s had to lease a larger building down the street so group meetings can be held safely and socially distanced.

"We’ve been busy," said Horowitz. "I’ve hired more staff. The need for people to access care and have support is pretty extensive."

Drew Horowitz and Associates has seen an 83% increase in business from quarter one 2020 to quarter two. What’s behind it?

"The fundamental belief behind recovery is connectedness with others," Horowitz said. "Touch, hug, care, love. Those are the concepts that we as recovery people have ingrained in us to sustain sobriety and hope and get through each day. That’s been stripped away."

He adds working from home isn’t a good thing for somebody who is battling addiction.

"Working from home is a very dangerous thing for an individual with an addiction. It isolates them more. It takes away the connectedness to people they may see at work," he said.

Horowitz reduced the number of people in meetings to keep everyone properly socially distanced and started using Zoom so people could participate remotely, but that does not replace the face to face.

"Zoom meetings are better than nothing. They don’t fulfill the same need a face to face meeting would cover. The connectedness, the emotion, the sense that they can feel another person, experiencing emotion with them. The empathy that’s gauged. That is non-existent from telehealth," he said.

According to Horowitz, COVID-19 has made recovery complicated. It’s harder to do face to face chemical health assessments and group meetings. Treatment centers are reluctant to accept people as quickly as they used to because symptoms of withdrawal are similar to COVID-19. And hospitals aren’t admitting as often for substance-related issues to save room for coronavirus patients.

As a result, more people are relapsing and there are more opioid deaths.

"We have personally seen an increase in opioid-related interventions and relapses," Horowitz said. "I would venture to say we’re going to see, when all the numbers are in and we look back on 2020, my estimate would be we’re going to see a massive increase in opioid overdoses."

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

"Well the solution is to fight, to not give up," Horowitz said. "To reach down deep into your core and remind yourself why you got sober and why you’re sober and not to forget what you’re fighting for. A life of happiness and serenity, hopefully filled with joy and family. And to use that drive daily to get you to the next step during this hard time, because this will go away at some point."

Hayden Wolf has come to understand sobriety is a lot of work. And during the pandemic, it’s more work than ever.

If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s use of drugs or alcohol, Drew Horowitz urges you to reach out for help to him, a family member, a friend or an agency in the community.

To schedule a Chemical Use Assessment with Drew Horowitz & Associates call (651) 728-1816 or (800) 731-0854.

Also, every county in the State of Minnesota has money set aside to help you fight addiction. People who qualify can get help paying for substance abuse treatment through their local county office.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services supports counties, tribes and providers across the state in providing substance use disorder, tobacco and problem gambling services.