Q: I’m worried about my brother, who is 10 years clean from drug and alcohol abuse. Now, with the lockdown and the stress of losing his job (he was a restaurant worker), he doesn’t look so good. Is there anything I can do to help him out’ — Carrie Z., Tucson, Arizona
A:You’ve put your finger on one of the underreported and major consequences of the pandemic.
More than 20 million Americans battle substance abuse, and across the country, people who run drug and alcohol recovery programs report an increase in relapses since January. That’s not surprising, since it’s an added challenge to stay clean while you’re dealing with the stress of isolation and economic chaos, and for the most part in-person support groups aren’t meeting.
The situation is also prompting people who may not have had a problem before to increase their risky behavior. University of Michigan researchers recently surveyed 562 Americans on their personal COVID-19 experiences and found a staggering 32% described symptoms of major depression and 17% reported severe anxiety. As a result, around 28% of U.S. adults admitted to turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress and isolation.
So whether you or a loved one is dealing with challenges to hard-won sobriety or you find you’re growing dependent on drugs or alcohol to cope with day-to-day stress, there are solutions — even with social distancing.
There are online Alcoholics Anonymous meetings accessible at http://aa-intergroup.org. You can even form your own group! If you need tech help, access the online Technology in A.A. forum at https://tiaa-forum.org. Narcotics Anonymous also has an extensive listing of meetings that are available remotely; go to NA.org and search for online meetings.
If you have a friend in distress, like Carrie’s brother, reach out gently and offer a helping hand to find a support group or just lend an ear.
Q: My kids and parents are missing doctors’ appointments because of the pandemic. When should they see a doctor in person or go to the hospital for non-coronavirus health issues?
A: That’s a very important question. Doctors and hospitals want to help patients who need ongoing care to handle chronic conditions and to make sure that kids get their well-child visits, which include vaccinations, but many patients are reluctant to go into health care facilities or offices.
The Commonwealth Fund found that between March 2 and April 5 nationally the decline in visits was 49% for adult primary care, 47% in oncology, 45% in obstetrics/gynecology and 62% in cardiology. Even surgeries have fallen 66%.
There’s also been a 62% decline in visits to pediatrician’s offices. But the American Academy of Pediatrics says well-child care and immunization of infants and young children (through 24 months of age) should occur in person and on schedule whenever possible.
What’s the solution? Telemedicine works well to discuss test results and to show a doctor, say, a rash and find out if you should be seen in person. But if you suffer a broken bone, heart pain, a flare of a disease such as multiple sclerosis, are in the middle of cancer treatment or have an infant or child who needs to be seen regularly to check for subtle developmental problems or to get a vaccination, do not put off seeing a medical professional.
The smart move is to wear a mask, keep hands sanitized and keep your distance from other patients.
The National Cancer Institute suggests that for in-facility treatment, you may be directed to a specific clinic or office, away from facilities that see COVID-19 patients.
If you take oral drugs to manage a chronic disorder, perhaps prescribed treatments can be sent from the pharmacy directly to you.
Also, ask your pediatrician about in-office precautions that are being taken (they will ease your concerns). This is no time to shortchange yourself on the health care you or your children need.