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Coronavirus and Substance Abuse

The Coronavirus pandemic has created more time on our hands, more stress in our lives and substance abuse is an increased risk.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to this risk. As with a headache, the treatment depends on the cause; and there can be more than one cause.

Boredom. Some individuals perceive that boredom is a primary reason they abuse a substance. That's good news because that cause is relatively easy to address: Simply identify activities that could be more attractive than substance abuse. Often they're addictive activities that can be done solo because doing drugs can be done while alone. Some of the activities that have successfully substituted include video games, binge-watching favorite TV, staying busy with work and family, and perhaps surprisingly, helping others.

Anxiety. Some people abuse substances to self-medicate their anxiety, which is heightened by coronavirus fears. A first-line approach is to ask such questions as, "Let's assume worst case: How would you cope?" and "Let's assume the most likely case. How would you deal?" Accompany such questions by encouraging distraction: The moment you're aware of the anxiety, redirect to something constructive. This awareness tends to atrophy the memory neurons associated with the stress. If such purely practical approaches are insufficient, cognitive-behavioral therapy may additionally help.

Addictive personality. Genes do predispose a person to addiction, but life can be improved by substituting healthier activities and perhaps cognitive-behavioral therapy or a 12-step program. A new statistical analysis has found 12-step programs work well for many people.

Hopelessness: Some people abuse substances because they feel their life is hopeless, so it's not worth taking care of themselves—It feels better just to anesthetize. That is the hardest cause to address. We typically treat it a bit at a time. One needs to ask something like, "Take the aspect of your life that you're most motivated to tackle. Perhaps it's something you deem easy: like cleaning one corner of one room. Or apologize to a loved one you've hurt. Or read an article on how to write a LinkedIn profile. When you've done one of those, try another. That may build momentum. As they say, an object in motion tends to stay in motion."

No one can rely on a few helpful hints to fully navigate this Pandemic and its potential pitfalls, but maybe some of these suggestions will help.

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