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Has quarantine culture made us prone to addiction?

By Andrea Poteet-Bell

Mar 3, 2022

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many of us being in and out of quarantine. We had to stay at home and try our best to keep our minds off our depression and anxiety. For some, it meant quelling those feelings with an extra glass of wine or two (or three, or four). Could it be that quarantine culture has made us more prone to addiction than before?

COVID-19 and addiction: how we got here

It’s not hard to notice the effects of quarantine culture on people with depression and anxiety. We stay at home, living off the internet and social media, watching TV shows, reading books, or playing video games. We can no longer meet up with our friends for brunch, coffee, or dinner.

And even if we manage to go out, the effects of our mental health issues follow us everywhere. We want to stay at home because it’s easier than facing the outside world. Once we do leave our homes, we’re constantly bogged down by fear. Many have even become agoraphobic.

There are numerous factors that contribute to making a person more prone to addiction. It’s widely believed that it’s a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. A Danish study has even recently found three new genes linked with alcoholism.

Upbringing is another factor. Researchers at the University of California Irvine have recently discovered how stress makes alcohol abuse more likely. They found that the impact of stress changes the expression of a gene called CRF in a way that makes alcohol abuse more probable.

So, if people with stressful upbringings and/or unpleasant environments are more prone to addiction than others, does that mean that COVID-induced quarantines and lockdowns have made us more likely to become addicts?

Addictive personalities and pre-existing addictions

If you have an addictive personality, you’re more likely to suffer from addiction issues during quarantine. Some believe that an addictive personality is largely a myth but what the term describes is really a sequence of traits that could lead to you being more likely to fall into substance abuse.

In addition to having an addictive personality, pre-existing issues with addiction could make you particularly vulnerable. An international overview of substance abuse found that substance addiction increased throughout the pandemic for a variety of reasons, such as social isolation and a lack of social safety nets and resources.

Furthermore, the panel found that the type of substances abused changed because the types of substances available also changed. Particularly, opioids and stimulants were found to be more popular.

How do you know when you're addicted?

Be conscientious about your substance use. If you find yourself leaning on a glass of wine or taking more than the suggested amount of prescription medication to get through the day, you should talk to a professional. If your friends and family members tell you that you might have a problem, listen to them with an open mind. Pay attention to your mental health and contemplate any changes that you make to your lifestyle. Reach out to friends and family and talk to them about your concerns.

Fighting off the quarantine blues

The only way that we can reverse the effects of quarantine culture is to learn how to deal with our mental health issues and put ourselves in a better environment. We need to find ways to fight off the loneliness and depression that comes with quarantine, which may help us avoid substance abuse.

– Find ways of connecting with people. Host online hangouts, take Zoom classes and play online games like Animal Crossing with friends.

– Talk to a professional. You can now contact them through online chat and video calls, which means you can get mental health help without having to talk to someone in person (and risk exposure).

– Engage with your family and friends. By letting them know that you’re struggling and talking to them about your struggles, you’ll feel less alone.

Anything that causes more stress can cause issues with addiction, especially if someone is already predisposed towards addiction. If you feel that you are experiencing issues with addiction, consider the benefits of a rehab centre. It’ll provide a holistic environment through which you can rebuild your health.

1 in 5 COVID-19 patients are diagnosed with a mental illness within 3 months

By Alma Fabiani

Nov 19, 2020

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Soon after the coronavirus pandemic started, we saw a sharp increase in reports linking survivors of COVID-19 with the development of mental health problems. But until now, nothing had fully proved how bad the situation was. Finally, we have some numbers to back those claims.

A new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry has found that almost one in five people who have had COVID-19 have also later on been diagnosed with a mental illness within three months of testing positive. How were these calculations made and what does it mean for the double-edged sword that is coronavirus?

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For months now, we have been warned of an oncoming ‘tsunami of mental health problems’ due to the pandemic. Professor Til Wykes, Vice Dean for Psychology and Systems Sciences at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, who was not involved in this research, told the MIT Technology Review that “We know from previous pandemics that mental health difficulties usually follow in survivors, and this study shows the same pattern after COVID-19, so it is not unexpected.”

To calculate the exact consequences of testing positive for coronavirus and coming out of it alive, researchers from Oxford University and NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre gathered the electronic health records of 70 million patients in the US, including 62,354 who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 from 20 January to 1 April 2020, but did not need to be hospitalised.

They found that 18 per cent of patients were diagnosed with a mental health issue in the 14 to 90 days after a diagnosis. Then, to differentiate how COVID-19 patients reacted compared to those suffering from other diseases, the team of researchers compared data with six other conditions (including flu and fractures) over the same time period.

Data showed that the likelihood of a COVID-19 patient being diagnosed with a mental health issue for the first time was twice that of those with other conditions. Anxiety disorders, insomnia, and dementia were the most common diagnoses.

On top of that, people with a pre-existing mental health condition—in particular, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia—were 65 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19.

Vaccines coming shortly or not, this study highlights how urgent the need for more mental health support is as more well-being problems appear across society in the coming months and even years. This collective trauma we’re going through will not heal itself without the necessary support. The loss of control over some major aspects of our lives and the lack of a clear endpoint to the situation led many of us to spiral into a diagnosable mental health problem, without even being diagnosed with coronavirus.

Obviously, we’re not all going through the same thing and coping during the COVID-19 pandemic can mean different things to different people. For example, healthcare workers as well as coronavirus patients are at an increased risk of such issues. The stress they have been under (and still are) could take months to be processed, which means we won’t know the pandemic’s full impact for a while.

Until then, putting a support system in place becomes our only hope at overcoming what has been one of the hardest years of the century.

 

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