Addiction During COVID-19: The Briefest Discussion

As humans, we're all inherently flawed. For some of us, this flaw is an addiction. Cigarettes, alcohol, hard drugs, social media are all addictions most of us have seen up close and personal. However, addiction takes a back seat to social impressions in a society built on appearance.


An addict is ostracized, covered up, hushed up in our society. It's an affliction not spoken about in polite company and looked down upon as one that affects the poor. But in every rung of society, addiction is a major problem. A problem that has been building for decades, if not longer.


But what was it about the COVID-19 pandemic that threw addiction into the spotlight? How has addiction become the problem to tackle in a country that has conveniently ignored the after-effects of addiction for so long?


It starts with a brief understanding of addictions and how they come to be. While there are genetic markers of addiction, most experts agree that several other factors lead to severe abuse and later dependence. Factors such as stress, trauma, depression, anxiety, isolation, and other mental disorders are a few key factors that can lead to addictions.


The first of many lockdowns in March 2020 came with problems such as large-scale unemployment, financial insecurity, isolation, depression, lack of physical contact, and mainly an uncertainty of what the future holds. Do any of these issues sound familiar?


But, you might argue, lockdown came with a ban on alcohol stores. Along with alcohol, there was a complete standstill on cigarettes and drugs. So, how could addiction rates have spiked? Shouldn't they have fallen, considering the addicts couldn't get what they craved?


Well, alcohol stores opened fairly quickly into the lockdown. Most states make a chunk of their revenue from taxes on liquor, and addicts, when desperate, are not fun. Most substance abusers switched to cheaper alternatives, black-market buying, or went into full withdrawal.

If you're unaware of what withdrawal looks like, consider yourself lucky. Apart from the obvious mental repercussions of withdrawal, the physical aspect can sometimes kill a person. But, the rage, mood swings, and desperation, aggravated by the issues highlighted above, led to spikes in suicides and domestic abuse.


But, it's not just about substance abuse. Alcohol and drugs aside, COVID-19 left most of us with a tendency to abuse social media and the internet. Internet addictions aren't recognised by the DSM-V, but a section on video game addictions was added. However, the pandemic might just push the DSM to include internet/social media and internet sex/pornography as addictions.


The rise in internet sex and pornography is directly linked to the lockdown and the pandemic. Being stuck at home, sometimes alone, with little to no work led to a strike in the number of porn views. India hit its peak increase and took the title for the horniest country globally, with a massive 95.3% increase in views just two days after the lockdown started on March 25th, 2020. When faced with endless days of waiting, the country's citizens turned to the internet - mostly porn.


But, social media use also skyrocketed at this time. Apps like Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok (while available), YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and many more saw record usage. Despite the shift to remote working, people had more than enough time to scroll endlessly through their feeds.


But, the real reason these addictions came to light in such a drastic way is because of a spike in domestic abuse and suicides. India was forced to acknowledge that people passed out outside alcohol stores when they opened wasn't just something to turn up their noses at. The country was forced to recognise that they lost precious bed space because addicts had physical withdrawal symptoms. Every household was forced to look inwards because it could no longer be covered up.


Addiction is a problem that is present in most households. Whether it's someone's uncle or neighbour, it's all around us. It is a complex problem that needs to be tackled with grace and a gentle hand. Stigmatisation, societal pressure, and the usual methods of dealing with addicts isn't going to work this time around.


Helplines:

TOBACCO QUIT HELPLINE : 1800-11-2356

ALPHA HEALING CENTRE: 1800-547-2060

National Toll Free Helpline to assist the alcoholic and drug dependent persons : 1800-11-0031

-Varenya Prasad

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