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How to Prevent Developing SUDs During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — April 8, 2020 — 4 min read
We’re all working to stay healthy and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). But with the huge disruptions in our daily lives, people might not realize if they’re starting to develop a problem with substance use. That’s why now is a good time for you and your loved ones to be extra aware of alcohol or drug use, and to take steps to reduce the chance of developing a substance use disorder.
 
There can be serious effects for people using substances at any time. With COVID-19, though, trouble might come faster. Since COVID-19 impacts your lungs, things that put extra stress on the lungs—like smoking or vaping—make it more likely you’ll get really sick if you catch the virus. It’s the same with alcohol, which can cause issues that weaken your immune system.
 

Taking good care of yourself has never been more important. Try to eat well, get good sleep and exercise. And stay alert, too. News about COVID-19 changes daily, so keeping up and being ready to respond is crucial right now. That’s why you should find ways to de-stress that don’t involve substance use. Here are some ways to do that: 

For yourself

Once you’ve decided to reduce or eliminate your substance use, replace that activity with positive habits.
 
As a general rule, to feel stronger, try to build on the things that are good in your life. Ask yourself: What makes me feel safe and relaxed? Then, do what you can to make those things happen.
 
One helpful thing to do is to keep a journal. Make notes about how you’re feeling, what happened today that made you feel happy, what made you feel stressed, and the steps you’re taking to care for yourself. Make a list of small things you can do to make yourself feel good. They can be as simple as opening the window, taking a bath, playing cards with the kids, walking the dog, or having a small piece of chocolate, for example. This list can help you stay in tune with yourself and recognize when you need a boost.

For your children

Talk to your children about substance use and be clear about your values on this issue. This is a big factor in whether children will use substances themselves.
 
Something else to think about: locking up your prescription medicines. Many people have stocked up on their medicines so they don’t run out during social distancing. Keeping medication securely away from children is essential.
 
The North Carolina Lock Your Meds website recommends that you carefully count your pills, secure them in a safe, locked place that kids can’t get to, and make sure you dispose of old medications at a community dropbox.
 
These steps are especially important if you work at a job that keeps you away from home, but you have children who are home by themselves throughout the day. Right now, there are a lot more young people home alone. That can make it easier for them to get medications, alcohol and other substances that might be around the house. With children’s routines disrupted, they also may be more curious and less cautious than normal.
 
The Lock Your Meds campaign has a list of substances that are often misused and their effects, so you know what to watch for. 

With your social groups

Connecting with your family, friends and social groups is a good way to help cope with social distancing. Even if you can’t be together in person, there are lots of ways to stay in touch:
  • Tune in. Set up regular 5- to 10-minute check-in meetings with people who are positive influences in your life. They should be individuals who you trust to share advice and guidance when you need it. You can check in over the phone, using chat or instant messaging, or even video conference.
  • Host group lunch dates over webcam. Stay in touch with the people you usually get together with by having a virtual lunch meeting. Talk about all the things you usually talk about when you meet and share a laugh.
  • Have a social distancing “block party. Enlist the neighbors to bring their dinner to the end of their driveways, their front door or their apartment patios. Share your meal and conversations from a safe distance apart. 

In the community

Health care providers and community support groups are adapting to COVID-19, too. They’re finding ways to continue providing vital services to people online. So, when it’s time to check in with your doctors or therapists, call to see if they can have a virtual appointment.
 
There are also a lot of support groups available online for individuals, parents and children to share their concerns and learn coping skills. Online support groups can help with resilience, anxiety, sadness and other emotions you may be feeling, as well as groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
 
COVID-19 has created stress for us all, but there are positive steps we can take to deal with it. Protecting your mental health can help you cope in ways that don’t involve substance use. 
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