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Addiction and Isolation in the Time of COVID


“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”

― Herman Melville

A pandemic in the time of a pandemic, “COVID-19 and addiction are the two pandemics which are on the verge of collision causing a major public health threat.” (Dubey, 2020). During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been an alarming rise in substance use and overdoses. “The coronavirus disease is causing an insurmountable psychosocial impact on the whole of mankind. Marginalized communities, particularly those with substance use disorders (SUD), are particularly vulnerable to contract the infection and also likely to suffer from greater psychosocial burden.” (Dubey, 2020) This “psychosocial burden” is a cause for concern for those struggling in substance abuse and recovery.

While we all are suffering in some way right now, the most vulnerable of us, as always, are suffering the most. A major factor in the increase in drug and alcohol use is isolation. And, isolation is a major risk factor in relapse. What makes this so difficult is that we as a society are encouraged to isolate now more than ever. The conflict comes then while we are supposed to be isolating, as much as possible; we are now isolating those who need the support system the most. Since the invaluable support groups are not encouraged to meet in person, many 12 step and recovery groups have moved online. While positive that they are occurring, the social component of the groups is what draws people in. Online forums and zoom meetings are good, but they do not hold up to the quality, human connection, and positive influence of an in person group.

This world wide pandemic has been difficult to navigate for everyone, however we need to be extra aware of those who are struggling or who have struggled with substance abuse and addiction. I ask, please reach out to those who you know have struggled in the past or are struggling now. Many who may seem to “have it under control”  are under new stressors, challenging even the best of coping skills.  In this novel time we should be reaching out to a friend or family member and checking in on them. We can all use a caring person in our life right now, it just takes a minute to send a text or give someone a call.

For those reading this and are thinking ‘well, ll I have noticed I have been drinking more’ or have increased frequency of drug use, please consider this.  Many who may have historically been “just a social drinker” or “recreational user” may even have noticed an increase in their use. Reach out and talk to someone as well. This is an unprecedented time in our history, stress is at an all time high.  It will not hurt to reach out and talk to someone, maybe it can alleviate just a little of that stress that we are all feeling.


Dubey, M. J., Ghosh, R., Chatterjee, S., Biswas, P., Chatterjee, S., & Dubey, S. (2020). COVID-19 and addiction. Diabetes & metabolic syndrome, 14(5), 817–823. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2020.06.008

Men and Substance Abuse


Addiction has no boundaries. Addiction impacts all groups of people from different socioeconomic status, races, ethnicities, and genders. However, while addiction is not a gender specific disease, it does impact men differently. Statistically men are more likely to be diagnosed with an addiction (Drugabuse.gov, 2016). Men face different health struggles associated with addiction. Along with health struggles relationships can be negatively impacted by addiction. While the factors are unknown as to why men are more likely to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, through treatment, hope is possible.

Men are more likely to use nearly all types of drugs, while women are less likely (Samhsa.gov, 2014). Men tend to engage in risky behavior at younger ages, which in turn could lead to more drug experimentation.  At a young age, drug use increases risk for lifelong dependency. While experimentation is not a certainty for lifelong abuse, it does increase the likelihood for addiction. Perhaps, this latter point leads to men being diagnosed more with substance abuse.

The negative impacts of drug and alcohol abuse in men are many, including the impact on health.  Men are at greater risk for negative health effects due to addiction; cirrhosis, pancreatitis and depression are frequent diagnoses associated with substance abuse.  (Drugabuse.gov. 2016).  To add to this, excessive alcohol consumption decreases testosterone levels, which in turn can cause erectile dysfunction, infertility, decreased strength and libido.  A man’s mental health is also negatively impacted by substance abuse. Men who struggle with depression and anxiety along with other mental health issues often turn to increased substance use which in turn only exacerbates their mental health issues.  Possible factors that impact this cycle are shame, guilt, and a feelings of low self-esteem.

Men can also feel the negative impact of substance abuse on their relationships. In general, those who are abusing substance(s) are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. This sexually risky behavior can include infidelity which can lead to STDs, and unwanted pregnancies.  To add, the role of father can also be negatively impacted by substance abuse. The lack of emotional availability as a father, the impediment of clear understanding and consciousness, and the distribution of resources towards drugs and alcohol, all negatively impact the family.

While there are many negative aspects to substance abuse in men, there is hope. Men do enter treatment more often, unfortunately often times via the criminal justice system. However, once in treatment there is opportunity to change. Through group treatment, men can find a community of people going through similar life experiences; though individual treatment men can find a confidential source of support and insight into their own addiction. The road to recovery is long and arduous, but it is worth it to not live with the negative consequences of addiction.

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Drugabuse.gov. 2016. Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use. [Accessed 30 March 2018].

Samhsa.gov. 2014. Gender Differences in Primary Substance of Abuse across Age Groups. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/sr077-gender-differences-2014.pdf. [Accessed 30 March 2018].

When to be worried: A growing child and drugs and alcohol


Finally spring is here and before we know it summer will arrive, something many Chicagoans look forward too. We get to enjoy the city at last, the beaches, festivals, block parties, and music fests. With these events and activities comes the prevalent drink of choice: alcohol.  As any Chicagoan is aware of, there is always a preponderance of underage drinking at these events. It almost seems that this is a common practice and accepted by many. Not only is alcohol common in summer celebrations but also drug use as well. What should a parent do? While marijuana becomes more and more accepted in the mainstream, parents are still concerned with the health and safety of their children. How should a parent address this with their children? At what point is there “a problem”?

Perhaps the most important thing to do as a parent is to communicate with your child. Communication, like in any relationship, is fundamental to a healthy partnership. Have you discussed drug use and drinking with your child? Have you been clear on your own views of drinking and drug use? Have you set clear rules for them? Also, importantly, do you feel you have created a space for your child to discuss this with you as well? In discussing drug use with your child I often describe it as a balancing act. On one hand you want to be able to establish clear rules and consequences, on the other you don’t want your child to fear having a conversation about it. Creating a safe place for your child to openly discuss the topic of drugs and alcohol with you is paramount; otherwise your child will find answers elsewhere.

While no one person can perfectly predict substance abuse, as parents there are always things to look for. Declining grades, dramatic shift in peer groups, isolation, and emotional turbulence are a few key factors to note. And of course, while these may be classic “teens being teens” actions, the extreme prevalence of all these factors could be a cause for concern.  Substance use in adolescents is detrimental to their health in both physical and psychological ways. The developmental time period for teens is at a critical point in developing into healthy adult. This is why it may be necessary that if you do see these warning signs, to discuss it even further with your child. Along with more open and honest conversation, treatment may be necessary.

Experimentation as a teenager is typically normal, finding new friend groups, venturing into new hobbies, finding new passions; drug use does not have to be one of them. Teens will always be curious about the unknown and the prohibited, it is their nature. However it does not have to necessarily venture in to illegal use. Therefore, communication and discussion is so necessary. This summer while your kids are outside living their lives make sure to talk with them about drugs and alcohol. Don’t be afraid to openly bring up this topic.  Make your rules clear, but also be open to hearing the questions and accept their most likely push back on the subject.   Remember there are resources available nearly everywhere online, and if you really are concerned, feel free to give your local treatment provider a call, just make sure they are trained in addiction treatment.

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago