Five mental health tips for riding out the pandemic if you suffer from substance use disorder

Apr 6, 2021
Medically reviewed by Dr. Maroof Ahmed, MD on 
Nov 1, 2019

Getting through each day can be challenging enough if you suffer from a substance use disorder. With a pandemic and social isolation added to the mix, you might find this period even more difficult if the support systems you rely on are not in place.  

You’re not alone. While the physical toll of the pandemic has hit the headlines on a daily basis, there are plenty of private battles being fought. One poll from July 2020 showed that many adults are experiencing specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being.

There are five things that you can do to support your mental health while riding out the pandemic.  

Tip 1: Break the stigma

Scientific evidence shows that substance use disorder is a chronic illness that comes with changes in the brain. It is not a moral failing or character flaw, and it does not occur because of a lack of willpower or an unwillingness to stop. Like any other disease, it can be tackled with medical treatment.

Yet, because the condition is so stigmatized people are still hesitant to seek out formal treatment, only one in 10 Americans with a substance use disorder undergo specialty treatment. Education is a massive part of helping people realize that proper treatment leads to healthier lives.

Some ways to break the stigma include:
• Familiarize yourself with expert information on addiction, treatment, and recovery: a great place to start is the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
• Using social media to follow hopeful and positive recovery hashtags like #recoveryworks and #recoveryispossible.


Tip 2: Create a routine

Routines can provide comfort, which fosters healthier habits and lower stress levels. Particularly early on in the recovery process, a structure to the day can be beneficial.

When there’s a sudden shift in routine, as we have seen due to social distancing, people can be put at a higher risk for cravings. The coping strategies they used before might now not be an option, so it becomes more important than ever to build new habits.

Some ways to create routine:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time to keep your circadian rhythms, and when you wake up, shower and get dressed to show your brain that the day has started.
If not working, schedule specific activities during the day, and if you’re working, set ‘office hours and stick to them to give the day regularity.



Tip 3: Connect with others

Pandemic or not, one of the best ways to begin sobriety is to consult a professional to find out whether treatment can help you. While more treatment plans are now virtual, they remain open and can provide essential tools and expertise.

There are also online peer support meetings. These days, there are more virtual support groups than ever and digital tools like apps and podcasts to help provide support.

Some other ways to connect with others:
• While face-to-face physical contact might be limited, connecting face-to-face online has never been more critical. If you can’t stream on Google Hangouts or Zoom, then make sure you keep calling and texting as part of your day.
• There is a list of Online Support Groups, Apps, and Podcasts here.  

Tip 4: See what benefits your employer offers for assistance

Employers are making great strides in offering solutions to assist their employees during this time of isolation and stress. Ask your HR team if your organization offers a digital clinic, like Quit Genius. If they do, get started straight away. If they don’t, they may offer assistance of some sort. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management reports that 77% of employers offer an EAP to their employees.

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can make a real difference if you’re currently employed and suffering or recovering from a substance use disorder. An EAP can be used to access therapy, treatment options, or recovery specialists.

An essential first step is to ask:
• Find out if your employer offers an EAP service by asking your manager;
• You can also find out from your Human Resources Department, Union, or Health and Safety Representative.


Tip 5: No matter what, ask for help

If finding a formal treatment plan or online support group seems too big a step, start speaking to a professional whose role is to alleviate painful thoughts and feelings.
During the pandemic, health professionals are still able to offer services through video technology (teletherapy).

A therapist can help you deal with difficult thoughts and provide tools and techniques to cope with daily life and the overwhelming challenges that come with living through a pandemic.

Steps to finding a therapist include:
• Search for 'licensed therapist near me’ (or more specific terms using the name of your city or state)
• Visit the American Psychological Association provider locator tool
• Check with your insurance to see which providers are in your network

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