In an interview with addiction expert Tim Ryan, The Federalist tackles the difficult discussion of addiction: the “pandemic within a pandemic.”
Ryan, the star of A&E’s 2017 “Dope Man” special, is the founder of “A Man In Recovery Foundation,” which partners with Rehab.com. As a former heroin addict, Ryan’s mission is to help in the fight against substance abuse—a crisis he says is exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The stress of isolation and financial trouble brought on by rampant state lockdown orders and business closures are having the unintended consequences of creating new addicts looking to cope and making it harder for recovering addicts to stay clean.
“What’s happening is people need purpose, they need connection, they need fellowship,” he told The Federalist’s Emily Jashinsky. “Now they’re all alone.”
“What people don’t understand—maybe they do because it was always in the news—we had a pandemic with the opiates and mental health prior to COVID,” Ryan said of impact social isolation is having on addiction. “So what we really have now is a pandemic within a pandemic. And relapses are through the roof, overdoses are through the roof, calls to the mental health hotline are up 800 percent.”
“Whether someone was newly sober, three months, six months, nine months, a year, they need purpose and connection,” Ryan continued. “They need their fellowship. And take the person that’s coming up on 90 days sober. They can’t go to a 12-step based meeting, they can’t get a 90-day coin. So a lot of people—on top of the instability of the market, the financial crisis—they might have lost a job, they’re waiting on PPP funds. People are full of anxiety and panic and this epidemic is getting much, much worse.”
When asked if the pandemic may be “pushing people towards addiction,” Ryan responded: “It’s pushing people towards it, because what’s happening is, take the husband or wife or the twenty-some-year-old that would get home from work, maybe have a few drinks.”
“Well, now they’re isolating at home, working through Zoom, starting to drink at three o’clock, starting to drink at one, starting to drink at ten in the morning,” Ryan went on. “People are self-medicating due to the quarantine. And they’re drinking more, and abusing more, and relapses are through the roof right now.”
“…What’s happening is people need purpose, they need connection, they need fellowship. Now they’re all alone,” he declared. “Even the people that are crossing that line now, they don’t realize. And what happens is people aren’t saying anything. You know, you see people, ‘Hey, it’s a Friday night drinking party. Let’s have a Zoom drinking party.’ And people are embracing this. I mean, alcohol sales are up 250 percent.”
“But what else it’s fueling is domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, suicide, because people are in so much panic they don’t know how to put up their hand and ask for help if they’re crossing that line,” he lamented. “Their family members need to be cognizant of it and reach out for help.”
“Now you look at the paramedics all the first responders, the hospital workers,” Ryan went on, pointing to frontline workers struggling to cope with the pandemic. “These people are experiencing so much trauma and PTSD that a lot of these people are going to need help once this is all over. And a lot of our veterans—these things, the isolation, they can’t go to their weekly groups—it’s bringing up their PTSD and there’s a high level of relapse not just with veterans but with people across the globe.”
Ryan also pointed to several warning signs of addiction to watch out for: “So if they’re isolating, if they’re not showering, if they’re sleeping half the morning away, if they don’t have any routine. Then obviously, if they drank alcohol, if they’re drinking more and drinking earlier in the day. If they’re getting prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication, Valium, Xanax. Those are up to 28 percent.”
“It’s easier for people to self-medicate but you got to be aware of the signs,” Ryan added. “What happens is people don’t know what to do, because a lot of people think treatment centers aren’t open. They don’t realize that treatment centers are open.”
“That’s why we’re partnered with Rehab.com,” Ryan said, “because literally, anybody can go to Rehab.com, fill out a 30-second questionnaire: Is this for you, or a loved one? Alcoholism, drugs, mental health? Do you have Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, cash pay, or no insurance? And instantly it will give you at least three resources that you can call and get into treatment. People don’t know what’s available.:
Finding treatment, however, has become harder during the pandemic as many individuals find themselves without income or insurance through their job.
What hasn’t been hard to find during the pandemic, Ryan continues, are the drugs themselves.
“Drug dealers will deliver,” he stated. “And I think a lot of the cartels have looked at this as an opportunity to get more drugs across the border.”
Another issue compounding the problem of addiction during the pandemic is the cancellation of in-person recovery groups, something Ryan says is an invaluable tool.
“Yeah, we can pick up the phone and FaceTime and call, but when you’re able to walk into a meeting and there’s 200 people there, it’s a difference versus having to do it through Zoom,” he said. “And, yes, it works, but I know people now in Florida, in California, and some of the areas that are getting warmer now, they’re having meetings in their backyard, having 30 or 40 people and setting up chairs six feet apart. Twelve-step-based meetings, Christian-based meetings, these should be essential.”
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