COVID-19 Lockdowns Increase Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
December 21, 2020

Research suggests the Coronavirus pandemic can trigger abuse of drugs, alcohol, and loved ones. Here’s what you should know.

There’s an old saying, “The opposite of addiction is connection.” Feeling disconnected can push people to drugs, alcohol, or anger. During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, you might feel lost because you aren’t going to work, can’t see people you care about in person, don’t have money, or have been ill or anxious about sick people you know. If your business or industry is in serious trouble, you are worried about your future as well.


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In many areas, bars and restaurants shut down last spring, summer, or again this fall and winter, except for take-out to prevent spreading the coronavirus. Alcohol stores have been generally considered an essential business and allowed to stay open — for good reason. If you’re addicted to alcohol you could die detoxing at home.

Sales of alcohol jumped in mid-March, but that increase didn’t overcome the drop in drinking in bars.

The pandemic does, however, seem to have sparked an uptick in drinking: One study of 1,540 U.S. adults in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that the number of days people drank had gone up by 14 percent in early June, compared to a year earlier. Three out of four adults drank one day more in a month, on average.

An occasional quarantini may seem harmless. But be aware that alcohol weakens your immune system and could increase your risk of catching COVID-19. And a little drinking can creep up. About one in 10 women showed signs of an increase in alcohol-related problems, in the JAMA study.

Drinking alcohol (or bleach) does not kill the virus, contrary to some rumors.

Other substance abuse

Like alcohol, opioids and cigarettes and other addictive drugs can make you more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Analyzing electronic health records for 73 million U.S. patients, a National Institute of Health-funded study found that the 10.3 percent of people who had a substance use disorder represented 15.6 percent of COVID-19 cases. Among people with a substance abuse issue, you were most likely to develop COVID-19 if you had an opioid disorder; next most likely were smokers.

Substance abusers also got sicker, often because their heart or lungs were damaged by their addiction. About 9.6 percent died, compared to 6.6 percent of people who didn’t have a substance problem.

It makes sense that the stress of the pandemic and lockdowns would increase substance abuse, but it is also likely that some people had less access to their drugs or fewer opportunities to use it privately.

In an undated survey of 1,000 American adults by Recovery Village, a multi-site rehab provider, 55 percent said they’d been drinking more in the past month, and 36 percent reported an increase in illicit drug use. About a third said they were hoping to relieve anxiety or depression.

Domestic violence

You might think that violent partners are rare, but sadly not as rare as they should be. About one in four women and one in 10 men in the United States have experienced sexual or physical violence or stalking by a partner, according to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. More than 5 percent of them had experienced this in the previous year.

Being trapped at home is dangerous if your partner is violent. Partners are more likely to lash out when they’re worried about infection, money, or their future. Be wary of controlling behavior: Your partner might insist that you can’t go out at all — even outdoors, wearing a mask. Are you afraid of what he might do if he catches you sneaking out?

The United Nations reported increases in domestic violence reports in Argentina, Cyprus, and Singapore after lock-downs.

Within the United States, police in Portland, Oregon; San Antonio, Texas; Jefferson County, Alabama; and New York City reported increases in domestic violence reports in the first weeks after shutdowns. this past spring. In New York City, calls went up 10 percent in March, compared to March 2019.


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December 21, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN