It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and we are also in the middle of a global pandemic. And while normal life is on hold for a while, our mental health is not.
If anything, the disruption of normalcy has exacerbated existing mental health issues and has no doubt created a mass of new cases.
People usually associate mental illness only with certain disorders such as anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder to name a few. But we must remember that those suffering from addiction fall heavily within the same bracket.
Addiction is now classified as a Substance Use Disorder  and recognised by professionals as a mental health condition.
Science has given us a greater understanding of just how addiction affects the human body; it’s a neurological, physical, biological, and social effect. Recent research has concluded that it is not merely a lack of willpower or self-indulgence. Instead, it is a total rewiring and disruption of our neurological system.
Those suffering from addiction must be treated as those with any other type of mental illness; we must have the same concern, empathy, and comprehension of their struggles.
It is true that the impact of this crisis varies greatly from person to person. Some of us are able to float along with ease, some have some rough waves now and again but nothing that will throw them off track.
Some are finding the waves a bit too constant, or too big, and some feel as though they are about to capsize at any moment. A myriad of anxieties and worrying; isolation, loneliness, unemployment, loss of financial security, and loss of normal life are enough to make anyone capsize – even in normal circumstances.
Isolation can have devastating effects for those battling addiction where one of the keys to recovery is connection. Many will have lost vital sources of support during this time; AA groups, sponsors, doctors, group commitments.
Commitments that come with support groups, such as token systems, or activity logs, are incentives to attend meetings. And so without this, failure to attend meetings – even with the presence of zoom or facetime – may increase.
Add this to the likelihood that medication may also not be as accessible as before, and this constitutes a very concerning cocktail. Particularly with alcohol, where withdrawal is extremely dangerous and needs specialist help, we run the risk of many health implications.
Substance addiction support groups were not considered essential enough to keep operating during lockdown. This displays the lack of understanding that the government and society have around addiction.
Amidst such uncertainty and angst, people are looking for ways to cope, a source of control, a method of escapism from what is going on around them, and this is where people may turn to drugs and alcohol.
We are at risk as a society, of an influx of relapses during and post isolation. Right now, more than ever, it is more important to understand the true nature of addiction to help those suffering.
The awareness of addiction as a mental health condition could be improved by having more discussions – at the moment, any truly helpful conversations surrounding the matter are scarce.
Stating ‘I suffer from addiction’ isn’t usually met with the same empathy and compassion as other mental illnesses. So the discussion is avoided or handled incorrectly, fuelled by prejudice and misperception.
Tackling drug and alcohol use cannot be achieved unless it is treated with the “same scientific rigor, compassion, and commitment that other physical and mental health problems are addressed.” 
Addiction should be high on the agenda when researching and treating mental health issues.
Those suffering will both feel more included and be better understood and supported. Conversations alone would bring leaps of understanding, helping eliminate the shame that surrounds addiction. Stigma is one of the main hindrances to recovery; people are less likely to reach out and seek help due to fear of judgement and further deteriorates sense of self-worth. 
It would mean steering the issue of addiction away from being ‘criminal’, or one that warrants punishment, and in the direction of mental health and one that requires compassion. Eroding the long-held belief that addiction is a character defect, immoral, is a key step towards progress.
It would mean more people have someone to turn to; a further source of connection not hidden behind anonymity and sworn to secrecy. This will undoubtedly have an immeasurable positive effect on mental health and self-esteem and this should not be underestimated.
We know the power of conversation and what it means for bettering one’s mental wellbeing. The great potential that human interaction, without judgement, has on the path to recovery is unparalleled. Therefore it is crucial to shift away from the typical stereotype of an addict in order to open the discussion about addiction.
If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us on a global scale, it’s that disease, ill-health overwhelming uphill battles do not discriminate against status, gender, age, race or ethnicity. Neither does addiction.
As the coronavirus situation develops, so does the methods of support. There may be light at the end of the tunnel – we just need to adapt and adjust in order to see it. If you are in need of support during this time, here are a list of resources you can access from home:
Don’t suffer in silence – get the help you need today. Call us on 0800 140 4690 for confidential advice & support.