The lockdown triggers some addictions (and makes some narcotics difficult to obtain)

Addiction expert Van Hasselt notes that the impact of lockdown on social life lowers the threshold for some addictions: "The loss of social control and structure can be the last straw."

By Pieter Beens

“I only have one true addiction, and that is buying things. I have noticed that since the lockdown I really have a lot more problems with that,” shares a celebrity on Twitter. Since the musician and writer is forced to sit at home, her desire to buy has been triggered - as is the need for nicotine, which she managed to ignore for 4 years. She is not alone in this. On social media, users share their irrepressible urge to snack, smoke and drink. Since the introduction of the corona measures, some cannabis users have also used more than before. Does the lockdown lead to more addiction?

“We are getting signals that some drug users are using more drugs than before,” Ninette van Hasselt responds to the question. The program manager of the Trimbos Institute notes that boredom, stress, loneliness and insecurity can increase the appetite for narcotics. Moreover, because services and assistance have been put on the back burner, there is only limited help available to those with addiction problems. So they now find themselves at home with stress, boredom, loneliness and insecurity, making it more difficult to give up alcohol and drugs.

Yet Van Hasselt adds that because of the lockdown there is also a large group of people who use less: “Many people use alcohol or drugs in a social context. When social contacts diminish, so does their use. For example, there is less drinking in the Netherlands than before the COVID pandemic.”

Negative emotions

Despite this, according to Arie Dijkstra, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Groningen, the lockdown has many components that can play into addiction: “The three most important factors are: availability of resources, and functions and dangers of a person's behavior. Now that people are at home, they have time on their hands. And since there is more opportunity, people are more likely to give in to triggers.”

The emotional rollercoaster unleashed by the lockdown also plays a role, according to Dijkstra. “People smoke, drink alcohol, or gamble to steer their mood and emotions in a particular direction. It is precisely in the lockdown that negative emotions play an important role: people can become anxious due to the invisible epidemic, they can fear losing their job or they can be sad because they cannot meet their friends. As a result, they will use more resources to get rid of those negative emotions.”

Before the lockdown, a normal structure could prevent addictions - or at least regulate them somewhat - but now the compulsory isolation encourages the urge to console or comfort. Dijkstra: “Normally, you get on your bike, take the train and chat with your colleagues. The lockdown creates an existence without routine and obligations. In such an existence, an urge for the things you need arises from deep within.”

Addiction expert Van Hasselt notes that the impact of lockdown on social life lowers the threshold for some addictions: "The loss of social control and structure can be the last straw."

Now that social control by colleagues is limited to a conference call, people can more easily admit to an addiction, Dijkstra also thinks. “At work, for example, it is important how you look and whether you are healthy. Those things are now being overruled by everything we are doing to get the epidemic under control and not get sick. Because social control has decreased, the motivation to stay healthy or to look good is being suppressed.” Like Van Hasselt, he observes that people who previously experienced negative emotions or previously had an addiction are especially in the danger zone: “If you have a lot of strong, long-lasting negative emotions, this situation affects you more.”

Under control

Yet it is not inconceivable that the addiction will disappear if the lockdown ends, both addiction experts think. "You can also see this in young people who think it’s cool to smoke on their way to adulthood," says Dijkstra. "At some point they stop doing that." “Much will also depend on the situation people end up in after the lockdown,” says Van Hasselt. In the case of alcohol addictions, we see that many people are often able to regain control of their alcohol consumption without intensive help, but that does not apply to those who have more problems and drink more and more often.”

According to Dijkstra, the best way to win the battle against addiction is to learn new habits: “Create a routine. This prevents your empty days from being taken over by the need for food, smoking and shopping. The recipe for happiness is that you can work on the goals that you find important and that are relevant. That makes a day feel meaningful. Work is not the most important thing, but a goal-oriented structure is everything.”

The corona crisis is extra difficult for addicts

The lockdown can be a problem for people with a mild addiction, but for the heavily addicted it’s even more difficult, says Ninette van Hasselt. “The disappearance of emergency services makes it difficult for them to keep a grip on their own lives. In addition, some addicts have to deal with scarcity. It is not difficult for alcoholics to get their daily dose of alcohol, but for drug addicts it is often more difficult. For example, we see that many heroin addicts are now switching to methadone because they cannot access heroin. ”

The danger of addiction also lies in the effect those substances have on one’s health. Van Hasselt: “This corona crisis clearly shows how important it is to have built up a good resistance. Self-medicating is then not advisable. Of course people with an addiction have a lower resistance and risk serious harm should they become infected with corona.”

Photo: © Marco Verch / Flickr

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