Addiction Treatment Services in the Age Of COVID-19

Are those of us in the field of addiction treatment services fully prepared for the consequences of COVID-19 for the recovering alcoholic or addict? Are we prepared for it at all?

A daily routine, regular attendance at 12 step meetings, prayer and meditation, and working with another are the key elements of success to stay clean and sober. Change to a regular routine, idol hands, isolation and loneliness are no friend to those in recovery. Particularly those new to recovery. In one fell swoop the current crisis of COVID-19 and the pending countrywide shut down is creating an entirely different crisis. Those that want a New Life in recovery are now dealing with joblessness, homelessness, empty pockets and isolation. 12 step meetings, churches, government agencies and treatment centers who have been there to help this population are now closed. This will have a grave impact on the relapse rate of those new to or struggling in their disease. Even those with moderate to long term sobriety are at risk.

Those in active addiction have an entirely different set of problems. Unavailability of their drug of choice and funds to get it alone will be sending tens of thousands into rapid detox, seizure, deadly dt’s, and panic!!! This will most certainly lead to more crime, desperation. and possible thoughts of self-harm.

At New Life Medical Addiction Services we are working diligently to create a web conferencing  platform for online 12 step meetings, professional drug and alcohol counseling, and a sobriety peer coach network. All of us need to come together to support this effort. The link to meetings will be posted on our site as soon as  today. It will be free and easily accessible. I’m asking that we spread the word to those in need. We have been blessed with the great opportunity to help others. Now is the time to do so.

Another terrifying fact is that those with who are actively sick and suffering from the disease of addiction have additional challenges and are much more likely to contract and spread COVID-19.

People who use opioids at high doses medically or who have opiate use disorder,  face separate challenges to their respiratory health. Since opioids act in the brainstem to slow breathing, their use not only puts the user at risk of life-threatening or fatal overdose, it may also cause a harmful decrease in oxygen in the blood (hypoxemia). Lack of oxygen can be especially damaging to the brain; while brain cells can withstand short periods of low oxygen, they can suffer damage when this state persists. Chronic respiratory disease is already known to increase overdose mortality risk among people taking opioids, and thus diminished lung capacity from COVID-19 could similarly endanger this population.

A history of methamphetamine use may also put people at risk. Methamphetamine constricts the blood vessels, which is one of the properties that contributes to pulmonary damage and pulmonary hypertension in people who use it. Clinicians those who specialize in addiction treatment services should be prepared to monitor the possible adverse effects of methamphetamine use, the prevalence of which is increasing in our country, when treating those with COVID-19.

Other risks for people with substance use disorders include decreased access to health care, housing insecurity, and greater likelihood for incarceration. Limited access to health care, places people with addiction at greater risk for many illnesses.  If hospitals and clinics are pushed to their capacity, it could be that people with addiction—who are already stigmatized and underserved by the healthcare system—will experience even greater barriers to treatment for COVID-19.  Homelessness or incarceration can expose people to environments where they are in close contact with others who might also be at higher risk for infections. The prospect of self-quarantine and other public health measures may also disrupt access to syringe services, medications, and other support needed by people with opiate use disorder.

We know very little right now about COVID-19 and even less about its intersection with substance use disorders. But we can make educated guesses based on past experience that people with compromised health due to smoking or vaping and people with opioid, methamphetamine, cannabis, and other substance use disorders could find themselves at increased risk of COVID-19. Having a substance use disorder may  cause serious complications for multiple physiological and social/environmental reasons. The research community should thus be alert to associations between COVID-19 case severity/mortality and substance use, smoking or vaping history, and smoking- or vaping-related lung disease. We must also ensure that patients with substance use disorders are not discriminated against if a rise in COVID-19 cases places added burden on our healthcare system.

As those of us in the field of addiction treatment services strive to confront the major health challenges of opioid and other drug overdoses—and now the rising infections with COVID-19—NIDA encourages researchers to request supplements that will allow them to obtain data on the risks for COVID-19 in individuals experiencing substance use disorders.

Feel free to call us today at: 856-942-3700 or send us a Text Message.


  1. Major on March 20, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    Nice very informative

  2. Jennifer Milas on March 20, 2020 at 7:33 pm

    Thank you for recognizing this as a necessity for many people out there.

  3. Lori on March 20, 2020 at 7:35 pm

    Not being able to attend meetings is a major issue for those in recovery. Hopefully online meetings will be able to ease a lot of the stresses of not having that familiar meeting to attend. Such a great idea!

  4. Shelley guimond on March 20, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    Desperate times call for us to think outside of the box. Maybe some of the new online programs will be helpful when we return to “normalcy”. Stay strong everyone, and remember we are all in this together!

  5. Alyssa on March 20, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    This is great to implement an online meeting space. Some have come so far in their journey and would be a shame for them to fall behind due to the virus.

  6. Jeff Mullen on March 20, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    Well said. This pandemic presents a totally new challenge for addicts and alcoholics seeking the support from the AA and recovery networks they are used to receiving. Your article shows how quickly the recovery community is responding. Keep up the good work.

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