Overview: With the profound changes COVID-19 has brought into the world has come COVID disregard syndrome, or a belief that the virus threats are exaggerated and won’t impact someone because they are healthy. This condition can lead to increases in substance abuse and should be considered when a treatment plan is formulated.
COVID Pandemic Exacerbates Stress
It has been nearly a year since COVID-19 began to impact the daily lives of Americans and people all over the world. Beginning in March of last year, we have had (at various times) business shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, quarantine rules, travel restrictions, large group gathering cancellations, and at-home work and school in an attempt to stay safe and avoid being infected with the virus.
The impact of COVID-19 has been profound for the vast majority of people. Millions have been laid off for some or all of the last year, millions more have been forced into being at-home teachers while they try to work, and there have not been many places to go on their off-hours — no concerts, no festivals, few sporting events, and no large-scale weddings. At times, restaurants have been closed for indoor dining.
Even so, nearly half a million people are said to have died from this virus, and tens of millions have tested positive. These numbers, which news programs repeat ad nauseum, have only exacerbated the stress that most people are feeling about the virus.
What Is COVID Disregard Syndrome?
While some have reacted to the virus by developing COVID stress syndrome, characterized by intense anxiety about contracting the virus, others have had a somewhat opposite reaction. Another entity recently identified among those impacted by COVID-19 is called COVID disregard syndrome (CDS), characterized by the following:
- Belief that the threat of COVID-19 has been exaggerated
- Belief that one has robust physical health against COVID-19
- Disregard for social distancing
A new study currently in pre-publication looked at whether those who identified with the characteristics of COVID disregard syndrome were more likely to use alcohol or recreational drugs than the general population, and found that they were more likely.
In the study, males who were predisposed to engage in risky behavior and who had a disregard for social distancing were most prone to substance abuse. In this case, disregard for social distancing involved a specific belief that they wouldn’t transmit the virus to others even if they were infected with it.
How CDS Increases Risk for Substance Abuse
On the surface, this doesn’t seem to make sense. If someone is pathologically unconcerned with COVID-19, why would that lead to more substance use and higher levels of substance abuse? Potential reasons include the following:
- Stress over inconveniences for reasons they don’t believe exist. In reality, no one has been unaffected by the societal changes brought on by COVID mitigations, whether someone believes they are necessary or not. In fact, for a person who believes they are completely unnecessary, it might be more stressful to see the overwhelming majority of people cooperate with shutdowns and self-isolation. It also has to be difficult to have options like indoor dining and attending large group events taken away when someone doesn’t believe it is necessary to do so.
- Frustration leading to self-medication. The intense frustration of seeing sweeping changes occur when someone doesn’t think they need to happen can lead to self-medication in an attempt to escape this massive loss of control over life and a person’s overall situation. Just as it can be traumatic to experience intense anxiety over the possibility of contracting COVID-19, it can also be traumatic and anxiety-producing to see the world shut down over what someone may think is nothing or a minor occurrence.
It is important to take even little-known conditions like COVID disregard syndrome into account when formulating a substance abuse treatment plan. Substance abuse is a complex phenomenon that can’t be easily categorized or explained, and there is no one “type” of person who tends toward substance abuse.
At Harris House, we see individuals with specific treatment needs as they confront the problem of substance abuse in their lives. Call us to learn about admissions, and find out how we can help you or a loved one find recovery and healing.