Be mindful of others as our country tries to move away from COVID-19

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Family and friends are trying to come together, and despite the outbreak of the Delta variant, many Americans are trying to put the pandemic behind them. Unfortunately, however, there is a reoccurring problem during celebrations and get-togethers, and that is excessive substance use or binge drinking. During the pandemic, the rates of substance use and alcohol consumption increased. As a result, millions of Americans became isolated, and many began to suffer from Substance Use Disorder and mental health problems.

This summer was a time for countless people to unwind and finally celebrate without restrictions. We’ve missed an entire year of traditional gatherings, which are the only times many friends and family members can see each other all year. Yet, it is important to be mindful of substance abuse and excessive drinking. It is also important to stay connected with others who are likely still struggling and ensure they are doing OK.

Isolation during the pandemic caused significant spikes in substance use. This summer is a perfect time to check in on others and make sure they have the support they need. In addition, it is good to know some tips for warning signs of addiction and how to open dialogue with someone who is struggling.

Binge drinking and harmful alcohol use have been on the rise. During the end of June in 2020, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use, per the CDC. In addition, the American Psychological Association reported during the spring of 2021, opioid and stimulant use was on the rise. Overall, there was an increased demand for mental health services. Moreover, overdose deaths, per the CDC, have been steadily increasing with no sign of dropping. The increase in drinking has also been significant. Alcohol sales skyrocketed, and people with mental health problems were more likely to report increased drinking during the pandemic.

Binge drinking is not a new problem. Consuming large amounts of alcohol during summer parties and events is a relatively normal practice. However, these are unique circumstances for many families who may have loved ones struggling in silence with addiction or alcohol abuse during the pandemic. If someone has been isolated, it is essential to check in with them and ensure they are doing all right. Many families will come together in large groups during the summer, and that time should be used to ensure that no one is left out.

However, a family may not notice that their loved one is addicted. Yet, there are some indicators, such as changes in physical appearance, altered behavior, drastic mood changes, an increased desire for privacy, and added financial problems. Alcohol abuse is one of the most common addictions in the United States. Someone struggling with alcohol abuse lacks control over how much they drink; they prefer to drink alone or continue to drink despite physical and psychological problems and struggle with depression or anxiety. Millions of Americans have been drinking to cope with problems over the past year or to relax, sleep or improve their mood.

Opening dialog with someone who is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction is not easy, especially after months of isolation. It is important to be kind and act with compassion. Listen more than talking and try not to be judgmental. Remain consistent in the message and communicate through actions and words – also, be predictable in those actions and words. Show unconditional love and concern and let them know they are loved no matter what is happening. However, do not be afraid to set boundaries and limitations. Finally, offer help and be supportive of their process of change. Unfortunately, not everyone struggling with addiction has the motivation needed to change. It is often up to friends and family to help them get the help they need. Offer to find and share information on where they can get help. As this summer continues there will be multiple opportunities to help those in need. Let’s ensure everyone is doing well and put the insanity of this pandemic in the rearview mirror.

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Michael Leach has spent most of his career as a health care professional specializing in Substance Use Disorder and addiction recovery. He is a regular contributor to the healthcare website Addicted.org and a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant.

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