Can Covid Actually Cause Substance Abuse?
We already knew how much the pandemic wreaked havoc on folks’ recovery programs, but now it seems that Covid itself may actually cause substance abuse. That’s right. Covid can actually make you an addict. So skews an Oxford study’s results anyway. And so warns the National Institutes of Health.
Say It Ain’t So!
It sounds like some real Fake News, doesn’t it? That’s what we thought too. Not just because of the absurdity of it all. (Though it does seem pretty absurd.) But because of how much we’ve already suffered. 32.5 million cases and 578,000 deaths. Just in the U.S. And people are still coming down with the virus. They’re also still dying. Now we find out that the survivors are at even further risk? And for addiction no less? Please, by all means, say it ain’t so!
But they can’t say it ain’t so. Neither can we. No one can. Because it is so. Worse, it is so in the worst of all possible ways. It’s unpreventably so.
It’s also not alone. Nope, addiction isn’t the only long-term risk faced by Covid survivors. That Oxford study found both neurological and psychological risks. Thankfully, the former — which includes brain hemorrhage, stroke, and even dementia — are marginal. The latter however are more considerable, and included anxiety disorders (occurring in 17% of patients), mood disorders (14%) and insomnia (5%). Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) factored in at 7%. In this study anyway.
The estimated overall risk of being diagnosed with either a neurological or psychological disorder following COVID-19 infection was 34%, continues the Oxford Department of Psychiatry newsbrief. For 13% of these people it was their first recorded neurological or psychiatric diagnosis. Ever.
Furthermore, after taking into account underlying health characteristics such as age, sex, ethnicity and existing health conditions, there was overall a 44% greater risk of neurological and mental health diagnoses after COVID-19 than after flu, and a 16% greater risk after COVID-19 than with respiratory tract infections.
Paul Harrison was the Oxford Study’s lead author, and he analyzed the electronic health record data of 236,379 U.S. COVID-19 patients. He also spent six months doing it. So yes, we’re talking quite serious here. And quite comprehensive. If you’d like to actually see how serious and comprehensive, the entire study is available at The Lancet.
More Than One Source
Lest you think the news coming from the esteemed Paul Harrison and the almighty Oxford University is simply too bad to be true, you may want to consider the list of near peerless figures who concur with his findings. There’s a study by Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Medical School which was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and brought to our light by Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Andrew E. Budson. There’s also a study by China’s Institute of Mental Health, the National Clinical Research Center for Mental Disorders, Peking University, the Key Laboratory of Mental Health and the Ministry of Health (among many others) published in Journal of Psychiatric Research and brought to our light by Elsevier’s Science Direct.
Then there’s National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins. Not only did Dr. Collins chime in on his very own Director’s Blog, but NIH researchers were among the top notch operatives who participated in a revealing three-part webinar series hosted by the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine. That series, which we learned about from MedPage Today Washington Correspondent Shannon Firth, was where NIH researchers came forth with the aforementioned warnings. Surprisingly, the warnings weren’t just for all Covid survivors’ increased risk of addiction, they stated that minority and underserved communities were “doubly at risk.”
There are “bidirectional associations” between COVID-19 infection and psychiatric disorders, explained the PhD-wielding Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. It may be because these people live in congregate settings such as prisons. Or it may be because they’ve other comorbidities. But even those without a psychiatric disorder show an increased risk, especially in the first few months.
Gordon consulted studies from a variety of sources, including the ever esteemable CDC, and found “every single one” has shown increases in self-reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, and “starting or increased substance abuse, ” as well as trauma, stress-related symptoms, and suicidal ideation.
Covid Actually Can Cause Substance Abuse
In addition to the hallmark symptoms of Covid infection, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, 25% of people experience symptoms related to their brain and nervous system, including dizziness, headache, debilitating fatigue and “brain fog” or cognitive impairment, which is trouble remembering, learning and concentrating. While symptoms tend to go away once someone recovers, some Covid survivors experience lasting long-term effects.
That’s how CNBC’s Cory Stieg so summarily began with this issue. And that’s what led us to dive in too. We thought perhaps there’d be a handful of reports and participants to cite. As you see, there are many handfuls of both. In fact, we actually ran out of tab space. But not before learning that Covid can in fact cause substance abuse. No, not because of the threat it poses. (Though there is that.) And not because of its recovery-marring properties. (Though there is that too.) No, Covid can cause substance abuse through the way it physiologically affects the brain. Thankfully, the risk doesn’t occur for everyone. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. So please: be mindful, considerate and diligent. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. And, above all, get vaccinated. Life’s risky enough. There’s no need to be unnecessary about it.