Some mental health professionals contend that Covid-19 has caused what Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., describes as “collective trauma” that we all experienced together. We confronted extreme stress during COVID, with pervasive uncertainty, lack of information, and loss of control in our lives. When faced with months of isolation, fear, mental health challenges, boredom, and loneliness during the pandemic, people often turned to a substance to deal with life’s difficulties. Losing connections, safety, purpose, jobs and loved ones has caused many people to question life itself and made many susceptible to using drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms. Individuals that suffered from depression, anxiety, or substance use prior to the pandemic were more likely to increase their usage during the pandemic.

Alcohol consumption climbed during the pandemic, with drinking to excess jumping by 21-percent. One research study found that the more a person was impacted by COVID, the more likely they were to increase their drinking. During the early months of COVID, liquor stores were deemed essential business and stayed open in the interest of public health. However, researchers note that continued increases in drinking for more than a year can affect a person’s mortality rate, in part due to alcohol’s effect on the liver. Women in particular are at a higher risk to develop alcohol-associated liver disease. Rates of alcohol use among women were rising before the pandemic, and alcohol use by women spiked during the pandemic causing a significant area of concern for health providers.

Other substances also saw a striking increase in use during the pandemic. Though overdose deaths have been rising for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented increase. In 2020 alone, 91,799 people died from a drug overdose in the United States. Provisional data from the CDC shows that number increased to nearly 108,000 overdoses in 2021. Fentanyl accounted for about two-thirds of those deaths. Opioids are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18-45, surpassing deaths from COVID and heart disease combined. Though COVID restrictions have relaxed, experts say that this will not guarantee a reversal in this trend. Addiction and drug distribution become deeply rooted in communities and are not easily changed.

As substance use becomes normalized, it can be difficult to realize if you have developed a problem. One sign of trouble can include the continued use of substances after experiencing negative consequences. These may be substance-related health issues, relationship problems, working while hungover, or losing your job due to substance use. It is important to learn how to cope with the ups and downs of life while maintaining sobriety, regardless of the substance of choice. If your coping mechanisms include substance use, perhaps it is time to learn new methods to handle your stressors. Therapy can help the journey by teaching you new coping skills which encourage healthier habits. You can recover from substance use, but you must reach out for help and do the work. Dealing with the underlying issues that cause you to keep going back to using drugs is essential to your recovery. You can experience hope, joy, and freedom from drug and alcohol dependence and can experience a better quality of life with hard work and support from others who have been successful. As Bessel van der Kolk notes, those who experience collective trauma can also experience collective healing.

What can help?

  • Sticking to a daily routine.
  • Finding a counselor through online platforms or in-person.
  • Prioritizing daily face-to-face contact with people.
  • Talking about the problem with someone– professional counseling center, partner, relative, 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or group counseling.
  • Monitoring yourself with the HALT Theory from the AA publication Living Sober. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired – monitor your state of physical and mental well-being with this acronym and notice when you may be susceptible to using a substance, so you can find another path.

At CBI, we offer an open-process oriented, adult (18+) coed outpatient level substance use treatment group. This group is considered a lower level of care and is appropriate for people who have mild to moderate substance use disorder. The group will run on Tuesdays from 5:00-7:30pm. For help coping with other issues like depression and anxiety, CBI offers therapy services both in-person at various locations in Pittsburgh and via telehealth. Please reach out to us with any questions and to schedule an appointment at 724-609-5002.


Abramson, A. (2021, March). Substance use during the pandemic. Monitor on Psychology,52(2). substance-use-pandemic

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (2014). Living sober: Practicalmethods alcoholics have used for living without drinking. A. A. World Services.

COVID-19 & substance use. (2022, June 3). National Institute on DrugAbuse.

COVID-19’s continuing toll: Increasing alcohol use and liver diseasedisproportionately affect women. (2021, July 29). Psychiatry Advisor.

Grossman, E. R., Benjamin-Neelon, S. E., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adults. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(24), 9189.

Kolk, B. V. (2014). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin UK.

Products - Vital statistics rapid release - Provisional drug overdose data. (2022, July 5). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.