by Priya Sharma, Mental Health & Addictions Counsellor, Tsartlip First Nation –
According to Health Canada, three out of five Canadians experienced severe anxiety, depression and suicidal ideations during the pandemic. Due to the strain our healthcare system was in, finding support to help us cope was extremely challenging. In these stressful times, we had to figure out creative ways to manage our time and stay hopeful. This included escalations in Zoom calls, pet adoptions, substance use and more. We looked for short-term solutions without understanding that these may cause some long-term consequences. Now that we are entering the post-COVID-19 era, I want us to reflect on how we coped with all the stress during the pandemic. Specifically, on the increased substance use during and post-pandemic.
15% of the Canadian population reported increases in alcohol consumption during the pandemic. This calls for a serious discussion, because alcohol or drug use is not risk free. Using substances has short-term impacts and prolonged use can have long-term impacts on our health. The long-term consequences cause concern because our body creates a physical and psychological dependency on the substance. Our brain starts expecting it, and if we are unable to meet those needs, we experience negative physical and emotional symptoms (withdrawals). The symptoms can range from being unpleasant to unbearable, making it difficult to stop the use.
So, how do we know if our relationship with substances is healthy or causing us more harm than good? Healthy and unhealthy are subjective terms. Instead of putting a number on how many drinks you should have in a day for your consumption to be healthy, I would like to share some questions that will help you reflect on your substance use.
Does substance use negatively impact your social life?
• Using substances alone, feeling isolated.
• Conflicts with friends and family when using substances.
Are you neglecting your physical and or psychological needs?
• Neglecting your hygiene routine.
• Sometimes we start relying on a substance to help escape from the stressors in our life. Just remember that human brains are more than capable of naturally processing stress and using substances only delays the process.
Are you using this substance because it’s become a habit?
• If we do something consistently for 30 days, it becomes a habit. A habit is very different from a dependency, but can be just as difficult to break without intervention/support from a professional.
Have you started engaging in more risk-seeking behaviour?
• Impaired driving, drinking alcohol until you blackout.
During the pandemic, we had to process some of the most complex emotions like grief while being isolated. It makes sense why so many Canadians increased their substance use. Asking for help is the hardest step; the key to a healthy recovery is self-compassion and patience. There is help available. Websites like www.HealthLinkBC.ca and www.Canada.ca do a great job at compiling all the resources available to you across Canada.