Katy-area experts attribute pandemic for rise in substance use as coping mechanism

Data Nielsen reports show retail alcohol sales rose 24% from the week ending March 7 to the week ending April 18.  (Courtesy Pexels)
Data Nielsen reports show retail alcohol sales rose 24% from the week ending March 7 to the week ending April 18. (Courtesy Pexels)

Data Nielsen reports show retail alcohol sales rose 24% from the week ending March 7 to the week ending April 18. (Courtesy Pexels)

More Americans have turned to substances such as drugs and alcohol to cope with the effects of the global pandemic.



Due to changes in schedules and routines, especially during a time of uncertainty, mental health issues can surface, said Colleen Paxton, the director of clinical services at West Oaks Hospital, which provides psychiatric care to individuals in the Houston area.



Additionally, when individuals are unable to go to work, earn an income or provide for their families, there can be stress at home, Paxton added.



Mental Health America, which uses a screening program to help identify the help-seeking population saw a jump in the number of individuals seeking help for at least three out of seven categories including the coronavirus, loneliness or social isolation, and financial problems.



MHA screened 8,052 Texans in May compared to 1,297 in January and found a 623% increase in total moderate anxiety results from April to May in Harris and Fort Bend counties.



Although hospital admissions have been down in some places such as West Oaks Hospital due to fear of contracting the virus, there are other issues forcing individuals through hospital doors, Paxton said.



“Along with these problems, there can be increased use of substance abuse as a way to cope, consequently bringing patients into the hospital due to relapse and needing to detox,” Paxton said.



Katy family doctor Chandra Chaudhuri agreed. Chaudhuri said many individuals who are turning to substances to cope were previously social drinkers who would have a glass of wine with dinner or occasionally with friends after a long day at work.



Data Nielsen reports show retail alcohol sales rose 24% from the week ending March 7 to the week ending April 18.



Sales in tequila, gin and premixed cocktails increased by 75% compared to the same time last year, and online alcohol sales increased 243%.



“I’ve seen an increased use in tobacco, alcohol and other substances as coping tools,” Chaudhuri said. “We’ve seen this before when Hurricane Harvey hit. It can be boredom, coping or knowing they don’t have to go into work the next day. There are some who have the propensity for alcoholism, so now instead of having two drinks, they are having three and four, and that is leading them to go further into their underlying disease.”



Mental health professionals urge anyone feeling overwhelmed to seek help through their primary health provider or a specialist.

By Nola Valente
A native Texan, Nola serves as reporter for the Katy edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She studied print journalism at the University of Houston and French at the University of Paris-Sorbonne in France. Nola was previously a foreign correspondent in Jerusalem, Israel covering Middle East news through an internship with an American news outlet.