The Coronavirus Crisis as a Risk Factor for Addiction

Sandrine Djian

Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, there has been much discussion about the virus’ physical symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing, but very little has been said about how this crisis will affect people’s mental health, especially their levels of anxiety and stress.

People’s need to distract themselves from rising levels of distress, alongside the reality of being forced to stay at home, can spur the use of psychoactive substances and engagement with harmful behaviors as a means of coping. This increase, then, can promote the development of addictive patterns.

Our lives during this crisis period are characterized by tremendous uncertainty, which is a major cause of anxiety. Our imaginations run wild, unlocking portals into nightmare scenarios. These imagined scenarios may temporarily give people an illusion of control over the situation, but they don’t provide true comfort. Similarly, psychoactive substances can provide some relief from the weight of anxiety, but ultimately they only deflect the fear temporarily and instill a false sense of security.

If, in normal life, having free time is generally viewed as a privilege, the excess free time afforded by the coronavirus crisis can become a problem for many, triggering feelings of loneliness, boredom and emptiness. For example, the lack of routine, such as not having to adhere to a fixed schedule or to fulfill certain obligations, can tempt people stuck at home to search for intimacy and instant gratification through technology, in the form of pornography or gambling websites. Similarly, children and adolescents will find that computer screens and video games are the perfect partners for alleviating the boredom and loneliness created by their sudden free time. The danger is that they may lose interest in, and connection with, their real environments.

The reality of home quarantine forces people into close shared environments, in which the possibilities for venturing outside in order to get a break or relieve tension get slimmer as the restrictions tighten. Whereas embarking on activities such as schooling or work outside the home can reduce the load of family life, this period of home quarantine forces people to confront their life choices and the quality of the interpersonal connections that they have cultivated. While the extended close proximity can benefit and strengthen some family relationships, it can also surface difficult issues that have been avoided or ignored. Either way, the current circumstances can aggravate existing problems, so that if a situation beforehand required treatment, then the current quarantine will only increase the urgency for finding appropriate help.

The coronavirus crisis changed everyone’s routines all at once and created a new reality in which we have ample opportunity to examine our lives and reflect on our habits and behaviors. This reality can push people to develop and grow, but can also reinforce and encourage addictive patterns. It is important for us to be aware of the challenges posed, and to be attentive to ourselves and our families. If you or someone you know is experiencing distress or loss of control related to an addictive behavior or substance use, help is available. It is important that all aspects of mental health receive proper attention and treatment, so that people can return to their normal routines as quickly and smoothly as possible once this crisis is over.

People with addiction issues and their families are invited to contact the Israel Center on Addiction hotline:

Sunday through Thursday, from 13:00 to 15:00, at 054-8266569.

Medical and mental health providers who are treating people with addiction issues are invited to contact the Israel Center on Addiction’s professional hotline: Sunday through Thursday, 14:00 to 16:00, at 054-2012077.

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