Dr. Anand Choudhary

What Are the Biggest Challenges for Tackling Australia’s Substance Abuse Issues During the Pandemic?

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In a perfect world, substance abuse simply wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, we are not living in a perfect world, and it is perhaps clearer today than ever before. As Australia struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic, new pressures arise. These pressures can make patients with substance abuse disorders return to their old ways, throwing away years of progress on the journey to recovery. In addition, patients who have never dealt with substance abuse before can suddenly find themselves dealing with this issue.

Loneliness, hopelessness, and the lack of organized sports can all contribute towards a growing mental health crisis during Covid-19. Substance abuse is perhaps one of the most alarming consequences of these pressures, and it can be incredibly harmful for Australia’s communities. Here are some of the biggest challenges facing Australia at the time of this crisis:

1. The Criminalization Debate

One major issue that continues to divide both politicians and average Australians is the potential decriminalization of marijuana across the nation. On the one hand, conservative and cautious individuals predict that legalizing marijuana could actually increase substance abuse issues, adding fuel to an already blazing fire.

On the other hand, progressive individuals argue instead that decriminalization would result in a safer, more reliable supply for normal, responsible Australians. If people cannot easily obtain marijuana during the pandemic, they may be tempted to try harder drugs that are more easily accessible, such as opioids. It’s a very interesting debate – but we might benefit from the approach taken by nations such as Canada or the United States.

2. The Collapse of Peer-Based Overdose Prevention Programs

Even before the pandemic hit, concerned experts were arguing for widespread implementation of peer-based overdose prevention programs across Australia. The opioid epidemic is arguably just as deadly as the Covid-19 pandemic, and like many nations, Australia has been struggling to address this issue.

Peer-based overdose prevention programs rely on individuals getting together and watching each other for signs of overdose. If these individuals can longer meet up due to Covid-19 restrictions, then individuals are forced to take opioids alone. With no “trip-sitter” present, this often results in fatal overdoses without timely medical attention. Often, a quick emergency phone call made by a friend can save the life of someone who is overdosing.

3. Lack of Exposure

Another issue that substance abuse doctors are dealing with is a general lack of attention from the media. With the rise of Covid-19, the spotlight has been completely focused on the pandemic. By contrast, the opioid epidemic is almost never spoken about or mentioned by the media. As anyone will tell you, spreading awareness of a medical issue is an important first step as we try to deal with it. Without the right levels of exposure, helping those struggling with substance abuse will be difficult.

The opioid epidemic is an issue that will affect us for much longer than Covid-19. As many experts have pointed out, the opioid epidemic will still be around long after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed us by. While it’s not fair to say that one problem is any more severe than the other, it makes sense to treat both problems with an equal level of attention. Unfortunately, the opioid epidemic is being swept under the rug as the world focuses on Covid-19.

4. Isolation and Anxiety Lead to Self-Medication

Although many people are trying their best to remain optimistic in the face of Covid-19, it’s not always easy to stay strong. For those living by themselves, feelings of isolation and anxiety can be incredibly overwhelming. For many of these individuals, the only viable route to relief is through self-medication. People who have never engaged in substance abuse before might suddenly find themselves drinking heavily or trying new drugs, such as powerful prescription opioids. Compounding the issue that traditional, face-to-face mental health treatment options are extremely inaccessible during the pandemic.

The truth is that isolation and loneliness can lead to all kinds of different mental issues, and these issues are not limited to substance abuse disorders. That being said, substance abuse can be one of the most serious disorders due to its potential for causing overdoses and other worrying health consequences. Unfortunately, the psychological pressures of Covid-19 are creating an entirely new population of individuals with substance abuse disorders in Australia.

5. The Normalization of Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Many people in Australia see alcohol consumption as a normal part of everyday life, and to some extent, it is. Drinking has been a major part of human culture for thousands of years, and it can be a relatively innocent vice among Australians around the nation. However, one or two drinks in the evening can quickly spiral into a habit of heavy drinking, especially amidst the boredom, isolation, and anxiety of a quarantine. One of the most worrying side-effects of Covid-19 has been the normalization of heavy alcohol consumption in Australia.

The Pandemic has seen an increase in the consumption and abuse of not just drugs, but also alcohol. In Australia, self-reported levels of alcohol consumption have risen sharply during the pandemic. Even more worrying is the fact that many Australians admit to using alcohol to cope with anxiety and stress. One survey showed that 20% of individuals had purchased higher quantities of alcohol since the quarantine began, and more people are drinking in home isolation.

Final Thoughts

Substance abuse doesn’t just affect the individual. It impacts entire Australian families, including innocent people who are trying to cope with the pandemic without resorting to self-medication. Since the appearance of Covid-19, increased alcohol usage has been linked with a subsequent rise in family violence. It’s easy to dismiss those struggling with substance abuse disorders as alcoholics and drug addicts, but we need to consider the wider ramifications. Increased substance abuse problems during the pandemic affect us all, including Australia’s children.