The positive side of the pandemic in terms of drugs

Addictions. Many people suffered withdrawal symptoms during lockdown and decided to give up their illegal substances, while others reduced unhealthy lifestyle habits

SOLANGE VÁZQUEZ

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. In most cases it has been a change for the worst, but not all. Even the most adverse situations can have unexpectedly positive results, and Covid has been no exception. One of the beneficial collateral effects has been a reduction in the consumption of illegal drugs at the hardest times, such as during lockdown and when restrictions were at their most severe.

No doubt many of those who are reading this will be thinking: "well, of course, they had no choice because they couldn't go out to buy supplies, or go to parties..." Are they right?

Well - surprise! - although experts do fear the binge effect will now ruin the progress of many addicts who had reduced or stopped their consumption altogether in the past year and a half, a good number have stayed clean (or almost) or have taken advantage of the enforced break to rehabilitate themselves.

The explanation could be that many realised how vulnerable they were and suffered very severe withdrawal symptoms at the start of the pandemic, and now they don't want to lose the progress they have achieved. A new opportunity has opened up for them.

This is what María Victoria Ochando, a professor on the Social Work degree course at the Internacional university in La Rioja, believes.

"We have seen a reduction in the consumption of drugs during the pandemic because of the lockdown, the restrictions and the scarcity of supply, but also because of a greater awareness of health issues," she says.

A report by the Spanish Drugs and Addictions Observatory into the impact of Covid shows that, according to the results of a European survey into drug consumption carried out in the summer, 71 per cent of those addicted to illegal psychoactive substances stopped using them or reduced their frequency or quantity, while 16.3 per cent did not change their habits and only 11 per cent said their addiction got worse.

The report says "this general trend of reduction applies to all substances, lthough in the case of cannabis, there is a larger percentage of people who have not changed their consumption or have even increased it, possibly because it is still the most available illegal drug".

In general, the drop in the consumption of illegal drugs is notable, especially amphetamines and ecstasy.

"Also, the reduction has applied to both sexes and all ages. Binging has also dropped, especially in outdoor drinking parties and especially among young people," say the experts.

When habitual consumers have been asked why they have set aside their bad habits, most have answered that it was due to the difficulty in buying drugs (23%), not having the occasion to use them (20%), but also because they didn't want to put their health at risk any more than it already was because of Covid (18%).

Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency. There has been a rise in the consumption of benzodiazepines (tranquilisers)and hynosedatives without prescription, especially by women. Alcohol consumpion has also increased, and so have addictive behaviours such as online gambling and screen use.

The more sceptical might say that we have simply changed some addictions for others which traditionally (and, for many, wrongly) have been considered less dangerous.

If people are more stressed and demotivated, wouldn't it have been more logical for them to turn to harder substances as a form of escape? "What did increase during the pandemic was the non-medical use of medication," says María Victoria Ochando. "But, of course, although the general trend was a drop in the consumption of hard drugs, people with addictions could still relapse due to the pressure and lack of social support mechanisms".

Bingeing

It now remains to be seen whether this drop in consumption will be short-lived. The new normal brings risks with it, of course. "Especially if people begin by bingeing, and the idea is reinforced that drugs are a means of entertainment," says Ochando. And, naturally, this idea of "let's live for a couple of days".

We did see some of that during the summer - everyone will have seen the pictures in the media - but a sizeable number of addicts who gave up or reduced their consumption during the early months of the pandemic are still staying strong.

"The pandemic may have created a before and an after. Some people will have touched rock bottom and realised that they needed to change their life and to ask for help. And many families may have realised what it is like to live with someone who is an addict," says Ochando.

In other words, the extreme situations many have revealed themselves in all their rawness and the 'social control' of the family has done its work... for the good of everyone.