COVID-19 And Substance Use Disorders

As of September 2020, there have been a reported 6.38 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in some way, but research has found that those with substance use disorders (SUD) have been hit particularly hard. People with a SUD are at an increased risk for contracting pulmonary infections, because of the effect drugs and alcohol have on the body like compromised immunity, as well as issues like housing instability and inadequate access to health care. Due to a plethora of factors, some individuals are not traveling to rehab during COVID-19, putting themselves at a far greater risk in the long run.

Contracting the virus is not the only danger during this time. A new wave of psychosocial stressors resulting from social isolation and lockdowns has developed. The National Center for Biotechnology Information lists some of these stressors as, “prolonged home confinement, depression and panic due to unknown nature of the disease, fear of contracting infection, vulnerability, work from home, anxiety regarding flow of income, fear of losing jobs.” Facing these struggles may push some to turn towards addictive substances as a relief, creating a new population of people with SUD and well as worsening SUD in those who already have one.

The number of drug overdoses has risen by 18% during the pandemic, according to National Public Radio (NPR). The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program surveyed the number of fatal overdoses and found that 60% of the participating counties had an increased number of drug overdoses, and many had a surge in the number of people who needed professional help. At the start of the pandemic, some rehabilitation facilities were forced to shut down, with others operating at a decreased capacity. Fear of the virus, as well as financial difficulties have stopped people from seeking help, even though research has shown that for many, it is more likely that they will die from a SUD than from COVID-19.

The Benefits Of Inpatient Rehab

For some, a combination of outpatient treatment and telehealth is a viable option to receive help during the pandemic. However, for those with serious substance use disorders, local outpatient treatment will likely be inadequate. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) stated that, “Comprehensive long-term residential treatment programs, where COVID related precautions can be implemented (social distancing, isolating, testing, etc.) remain a viable treatment option when clinically indicated.” The American Society of Addiction Medicine has laid out guidelines to make inpatient rehabilitation safe, including increased sanitation processes, screening for symptoms, isolating those who exhibit symptoms, and limiting visitors. Inpatient rehabs are implementing safety measures, but the real concern for some is the consideration of traveling to rehab during COVID-19.

One of the benefits of inpatient rehab is that it takes the addict away from their day to day life that includes access to their addiction, like local dealers, their regular bars, or people that they would use drugs or alcohol with. Getting away from it all can offer people the opportunity to solely focus on their recovery with no distractions. However, the fear of traveling to rehab during COVID-19 may cause some to hesitate, as the busyness of airports and the confinement of airplanes seem like a place where it would be easy to contract the virus.

Safely Traveling To Rehab During COVID-19

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has laid out proactive and protective measures to decrease the spread of COVID-19 for those traveling via plane. Check points have been placed throughout airports to remind people to social distance, and acrylic barriers have been placed to separate passengers from TSA officers. Passengers are required to wear a face covering at all times, and TSA agents are required to wear both gloves and a face covering. Sanitation practices have been implemented, and currently there is a temporary exemption that allows passengers to bring up to a 12-ounce container of liquid hand sanitizer. Touchless technology that screens passengers and their luggage without having to touch anything is being used, such as Computed Tomography (CT) and Enhanced Advanced Imaging Technology (eAIT). The number of people traveling overall has drastically decreased, as shown by the TSA checkpoint travel numbers for 2020 and 2019 list. For example, on September 6, 2019, the number of passengers was 2,370,003. On September 6, 2020, it was 689,630.

Depending on the preference of the individual, it may not be necessary to travel by plane to attend rehab if they are staying within the continent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines on how to protect oneself from COVID-19 when using transportation such as personal vehicles, public transit like trains and buses, rideshares, paratransit programs, bikes, scooters, and other micro-mobility devices. Wearing a mask, washing hands, and using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol are all recommended steps. Avoiding touching unnecessary surfaces, practicing social distancing, improving ventilation by opening windows, and disinfecting surfaces with alcohol wipes are all tools to be implemented in any kind of ground travel.

Finding The Right Inpatient Rehab

Finding the right inpatient rehabilitation facility is crucial to making sure the needs of each individual are met. If someone is limiting themselves to options only available within their city limits, they are doing themselves a disservice. Certain centers offer different treatment options and approaches. A person may desire a holistic approach and enjoy therapies like yoga, meditation, or animal assisted therapies. They may desire a 12-step approach that is focused on community, or a luxury treatment center that offers upscale amenities. Certain medications may also be key during detox and recovery. Doing research on treatment options is extremely important to make sure the right facility is selected.

Traveling to rehab during COVID-19 can be done safely if precautionary measures are taken, and proper screening upon arrival to the facility results in a safe experience so treatment can begin. Waiting any longer to seek treatment may be dangerous for those with a serious addiction, so excuses should not be made to put off arranging treatment.

For more information on addiction treatment, contact a treatment provider today.


Last Updated:


Hayley Hudson

Photo of Hayley Hudson
  • Hayley Hudson is the Director of Content at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Communications from the University of Central Florida and has over 7 years of professional writing experience.

  • More from Hayley Hudson