How coronavirus impacts in the consumption of alcohol and other drugs
1. How the consumption of these substances affects the general population
The use of alcohol and other drugs usually increases among the general population during crisis situations, such as the one we are currently experiencing because of COVID-19. Beginning or increasing the consumption of alcohol and other drugs during this critical stage may trigger problematic substance use or addiction in the medium and long term.
The media recently reported that alcohol purchases, especially beer, have grown significantly. This increase in consumption may be due to the fact that many people use alcohol for the purposes of relaxing and entertainment while at home. At the same time, in times of crisis, alcohol consumption also increases among people who are less likely to purchase the drugs they use regularly, so they use alcohol to replace or alleviate the difficulties that this it entails for them.
Myths and truths related to the use of alcohol and other drugs
The following is a list of myths and truths about the use of alcohol and other drugs in order for us to reflect on, prevent, and become aware of what may cause and motivate this consumption.
Myth: Alcohol and other drugs relax us and relieve stress
Reality: Initially consumption can create pleasurable states, but then it can:
- generate stress and anxiety
- alter sleep patterns
- generate health problems
- interfere with our family relationships
- limit our ability to deal with problems properly.
Myth: Alcohol gives us energy, makes us more active and enlivens us
Reality: Alcohol is a depressant to the nervous system and is not the answer to the boredom, apathy and discouragement caused by confinement, because after a brief sense of pleasure it will cause us to have less control over our emotions, fatigue and feelings of sadness.
Myth: It allows me to better control the situation
Reality: On the contrary, the use of alcohol or other drugs limits our self-control, making it difficult to follow strict confinement measures and increasing the likelihood of contagion.
Myth: It eases the pain
Reality: Alcohol or marijuana are not resources to use to ease the pain of existing chronic illnesses, because their use can have serious consequences for our general health, in addition the effect is very short term. They can lead to tolerance and addiction, and chronic consumption can increase pain sensitivity. Avoid using un-prescribed medication or increasing the dose of what you are taking without consulting a professional.
Myth: Beer is not alcohol
Reality: A glass of beer contains the same amount of alcohol as a glass of wine.
Myth: Beer quenches thirst better than water
Reality: Beer has a high percentage of water, but the alcohol it contains interferes with the reduction of a hormone (vasopressin), which increases the secretion of urine. Therefore, more fluid is expelled than ingested.
Myth: Alcohol is a food
Reality: Alcohol increases fat production and does not feed us. During confinement it is advisable to follow good eating habits, especially fruit and vegetable consumption.
Myth: It facilitates sex
Reality: Alcohol and other drugs may initially cause us to be uninhibited. But they later interfere with sexual ability and impede full sexual intercourse. Alcohol and drug use during confinement may lead to cybersex or impulsive sexting and cause greater exposure to such things than not using alcohol or drugs.
Myth: If I don't drink every day, I don’t have a problem
Reality: The damage caused by consumption is related to both quantity and intensity. It is more harmful to drink large quantities in a short period of time.
Myth: Alcohol and other drugs help us sleep
Reality: It is possible that the anxiety, fear and change of routine caused by the extraordinary situation at the moment are causing disturbances at bedtime. Turning to any substance will alter sleep quality.
Myth: Consumption kills the virus
Reality: No scientific study has confirmed this rumour. Excessive consumption of alcohol lowers our body's defences.
Myth: Alcohol is good for our health
Reality: Consumption causes physical problems that can be a risk if you suffer from COVID-19.
Myth: During confinement there is no social pressure
Reality: Many messages are circulating on social media inviting us to drink or use drugs.
Myth: During the crisis I have to increase my psychiatric medication
Reality: It is important to follow the guidelines agreed with your doctor. If necessary, contact your doctor by telephone.
Myth: Tobacco is not a drug and it eases anxiety
Reality: Tobacco is a stimulant drug and does not soothe anxiety but instead leads to withdrawal symptoms caused by its consumption.
How to know if I’m drinking more than I should
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has calculated a standard drink unit. Exceeding these guidelines may have negative consequences on physical, psychological, social or economic aspects of life.
What are the limits?
- Max. 4 SDUs per day
- Max. 6 SDUs occasionally
- Max. 2 SDUs per day
- Max. 5 SDUs occasionally
1 SDU (standard drink unit) = 10 g of pure alcohol
- One glass of wine or cava
- One beer
- One shot or a coffee with whisky/brandy
- One glass of brandy or liquor
- One whisky
- One mixed drink (e.g. rum and coke)
The consumption of alcohol is contraindicated for:
- Children under 16 years of age
- Pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers
- Drivers and operators of machinery
- People who take certain types of medication
Not only is the amount of consumption indicative of a problem, but so is when it is consumed to obtain an effect, alleviate or change your psychic state (to cheer you up or relax you) or if you need to drink in order to relate to others or to deal with adverse situations or personal difficulties.
When to seek the help of a professional?
It is advisable to be mindful of any changes in alcohol or other drug use. In the event that consumption causes problems, an increase in consumption is detected, or any mental, physical or social alterations are caused by it, it is important to try to gradually reduce the amount and frequency of alcohol or other drug use. If this is not possible, care should be taken not to increase your consumption and you should seek help from the referral centre.
2. Recommendations for patients with substance use disorders
COVID-19 can have a different impact on people who have or have had problems with alcohol or other drugs.
People with substance use problems may be more at risk of emotional distress during quarantine. On the other hand, people with the highest emotional distress are at higher risk of developing an addiction during this stage of the health crisis.
It is important for people who have quit drinking alcohol and other substances to stay motivated and seek new strategies to prevent relapses as well as maintain healthy routines, as confinement measures can lead to stress and emotional difficulties.
Similarly, many people may have been affected by the measures established in the Care and Follow-Up Centres (CAS), where face-to-face visits and group therapies have been cancelled.
In the face of this pandemic situation, measures such as spacing out or reducing urine tests, prolonging home treatment durations and frequency of methadone dispensing can significantly affect these people.
But this does not have to imply that the treatment has been abandoned or cancelled; visits can be made by telephone and professionals contacted by calling the referral CAS.
People with substance use disorders are at increased risk for SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
COVID-19 particularly affects the lungs, thus increasing the risk of health problems among people who smoke tobacco, cannabis or other drugs. Opioid users are more at risk of suffering COVID-19 complications due to the effect of the drug on the respiratory and pulmonary systems, and there is an increased risk of overdose. Cocaine use also causes blood vessels to constrict, which can lead to lung and respiratory problems.
Quarantine may make it harder for some users to get substances, which can lead to:
- withdrawal symptoms
- increased emotional distress
- more social problems.
Measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in people who consume substances:
- Do not share any consumer equipment
- Carefully clean the packages or wraps with an alcohol wipe or alcohol solution
- Wash hands thoroughly before and after purchasing, handling, preparing and consuming the drug
- Do not touch or handle other peoples’ equipment
- Pay attention to the dose that is consumed. When consuming alone in confinement, the risk of overdose is very high.
In order to prevent contagion, the venipuncture centres and the syringe exchange units are being kept open and operational (with modification of the times and closing of some). You can contact the care and follow-up centres, the mental health referral centres and all the open Psychiatric Emergency Units by telephone if you have an extreme need.
If any person suspects that they have become infected with COVID-19, they must inform their healthcare professional about their situation regarding the use of substances, so that any possible complications and disorders can be taken into account.