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Looking out for signs of overusing drugs and alcohol for stress

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Sales of pot and alcohol are way up as of late. For some people, it can be a way to take off the edge and help with the stress. But there are many people who are dealing with addiction issues, and it’s especially acute during the coronavirus pandemic.

David Anderson of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation clinic in Bellevue joined KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show to discuss worrying signs and how the clinic is helping.

“We currently moved to a virtual model where our patients are off site … and we run our individuals and our groups in that manner. We still have patients coming into our inpatient programs where we’re practicing really stringent infection control measures to keep patients safe and keep staff [safe],” Anderson said.

What are some of the concerns that are coming into the center right now?

“We have people who have this condition that when when they’re home and they’re isolating, it makes it worse. But it also accelerates the increase in alcohol and marijuana purchases,” he said. “What we find is that when people lose structure in their lives, they tend to increase their use. They fill that with something.”

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“Sometimes you see that when somebody loses a job, you may see it when somebody retires, and now they’re sitting at home, and if they watch too much news and get too down, their use increases. … People are asking questions about their loved ones. Does this person have a problem? What are the signs? What should I look for? They’re asking us what services we have available.”

As Ursula noted, there are likely many people right now who are saying, “This is just an unusual time. It’s the pandemic. I can justify this because we are going through a lot of stress and this is just something I’m doing right now to help me through this stress.”

When does this become a problem?

“The simplest way to asses this is when somebody points it out or when somebody is concerned about your use and they say something like, ‘I wish you would drink less. Do you have to do that now?’ … Family members and friends usually send a signal because it’s hard to address it directly.”

Coping with added stress during the coronavirus outbreak

Anderson said that while it’s true these are stressful times, relying on substances is often an overly simple way to address stress, and doesn’t ultimately help.

“Yeah, this is a time of stress, but we also know — and this has never changed — that when people look to almost the simplest way to solve their problems by using, that can become the only tool in their tool box,” he said. “And we know that when you recover from drinking too much or using too much, your body’s under stress.”

“So then what happens? That leads to confusion. Your body gets confused, your emotions get confused … ‘Am I under stress physically or am I under stress emotionally?’ And so that then that leads to a pattern of using again to relieve that stress. So we’re hoping people will find other ways to deal with stress.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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