Addiction Treatment During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Last Updated: July 2, 2021

Authored by Roger Weiss, MD

The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered one of the hardest blows ever to people who need addiction treatment. During the times when world health organizations demand isolation to stop the spread of coronavirus, those with substance use disorder (SUD) are at a high risk of staying alone with their dependence. Crumbling jobs, disrupted friendships, and decreased access to healthcare can all be devastating to someone who has just started to break out from the clenches of addiction and is actively endangered in substance abuse treatment.

Staying face-to-face with addiction without any support is the worst option that a person can choose during the pandemic. Drug rehab centers across the U.S. recognize this acute need for treatment and work to adapt to the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, rehabilitation facilities may currently present the safest environment for the people with SUD, as they take extra precautions to minimize the risks of their patients contracting coronavirus on the premises.

How Drug Rehabs Adapt To The COVID-19 Pandemic

Enhanced Safety Precautions

During the coronavirus pandemic, drug rehabs for addiction treatment need to be more prepared to handle infection than they normally are. To prevent the spreading of COVID-19, addiction treatment facilities conduct phone screenings before inviting prospective patients in. It helps reduce the time that a person needs to spend outside, as well as prepares the staff to accommodate the needs of that particular patient. On arrival, patients are asked about experiencing any symptoms of coronavirus (cough, fever, and feeling ill). Also, drug rehabs provide their visitors with protective equipment to eliminate the possibility of spreading and contracting COVID-19:

  • face masks
  • respirators
  • gloves
  • disposable face shields
  • goggles, and other eyes protective equipment

preventative measures to stop COVID-19

Waiting Room Precautions

Waiting rooms at addiction treatment centers are modified to handle the coronavirus pandemic appropriately. In compliance with CDC guidelines for clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic, addiction treatment centers do the following:

  • provide hand sanitizers, tissues, and trash cans in their waiting rooms;
  • place chairs at a sufficient distance from one another to stop the spread of coronavirus;
  • conduct regular cleaning and disinfection in the treatment facilities, ensuring that the items (like magazines and books) that can be potentially contaminated with COVID-19 are not used by patients in their waiting rooms.

Remote Access To Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is a critical medication in drug addiction treatment that should not be discontinued abruptly. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, doctors may conduct consultations and issue prescriptions via phone, Skype, FaceTime, and other non-HIPAA compliant resources. Also, providers of the medication may allow refills without in-person visits to stop the spread of COVID-19.

More Access To Naloxone

Naloxone can be vital in addiction treatment, particularly in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a drug used to mitigate the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone can immediately reverse the respiratory depression caused by opioids and preserve a person’s life for as long as it’s necessary to get to a hospital or an addiction treatment facility. In the current situation, naloxone may be obtained without a prescription at an increased number of pharmacies. Doctors also may issue electronic prescriptions for the drug.

remote prescription

Small Group Meetings In Inpatient Settings

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face interaction is still sometimes possible when addiction treatment would largely benefit from it. Inpatient addiction treatment centers may hold small gatherings of up to 10 people, ensuring the safety of the participants. At these small meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative to:

  • position the seats at least 6 feet from one another;
  • disinfect the room and chairs;
  • supply the participants with personal protective items, such as face masks and hand sanitizers.

Why Seeking Help At Drug Rehabs During COVID-19 Outbreak

Addiction treatment at drug rehabilitation centers currently presents among the best and safest options for the people with SUD. Inpatient settings shield patients from the coronavirus pandemic while providing them with treatment and company that are both crucial for recovery.

Isolated Rooms

Addiction treatment centers that offer inpatient substance abuse treatment provide the residents with isolated rooms for the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staying in such rooms poses no more threat of contracting coronavirus than staying at one’s own home. Although there may be more people in the facility in general, isolated rooms provide a reliable way to stay away from the COVID-19 pandemic and fight addiction in the most suitable environment.

24/7 Medical Supervision

Drug rehabs ensure the success of addiction treatment by providing their patients with round-the-clock medical supervision and help. Having medical professionals to monitor one’s state is a much safer way of delivering addiction treatment than going through detox and withdrawal at home. Besides, during the coronavirus pandemic, drug rehabs conduct regular screening and keep an eye out for the symptoms of COVID-19. In a rare case of a patient contracting coronavirus despite being in isolation at a rehab facility, the person will receive the necessary medical help promptly and without infecting others.

around the clock medical supervision

Controlled Detox

One of the first and main stages of addiction treatment is detoxification, during which a person’s body needs the time to get completely clean. The coronavirus pandemic might make many people more susceptible to attempting detox at home. It can be incredibly dangerous and damaging to a person’s health, as detox is often accompanied by severe withdrawal symptoms, increasing the chance of relapsing. The professional staff at drug rehabs is always better suited to guide a person through detox, and the individual should not initiate detox by themselves regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preventing Depression Because Of Loneliness

Addiction treatment is hardly possible to go through without any support. The COVID-19 pandemic is incredibly dangerous to people with SUD not only because of its physical impacts but because it leads to isolation. Self-isolation at home during addiction treatment can be exhausting emotionally, particularly for those who don’t have any family and friends or the means of communication with them. Drug rehabs can become life-saving during the coronavirus pandemic because they provide the essential communication and social engagement that divert depression.

Preventing Forced Withdrawal

Addiction treatment is particularly crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic because it can be the only option for some people to remain alive. Coronavirus disrupts not only the normal functioning of many systems in the country, including healthcare, but illegal supply chains as well. Consequently, many people with SUD will lose access to their drugs for the whole duration of the coronavirus pandemic. The abrupt withdrawal of such substances as heroin, benzodiazepines, and even alcohol can cause severe changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and brain functioning, all potentially leading to death. Under such circumstances, it is high time to start substance abuse treatment until withdrawal and craving lead to lethal outcome.

telehealth services

Telehealth And Online Support Groups As Alternative To Traditional Therapies


Telehealth in the discussed context refers to providing addiction treatment services via telecommunication technologies to reduce the exposure of vulnerable patients to COVID-19. During the pandemic, national addiction hotlines and online appointments can be crucial for stopping coronavirus without sacrificing the quality of care for those who need addiction treatment. Also, due to the pandemic, patients have more access to AA meetings online, e-prescriptions, and phone- or chat-based consultations.

Online Support Groups

A huge part of addiction treatment consists of giving and receiving support from other people struggling with the same problem. During the coronavirus pandemic, the dangers of in-person meetings outweigh the benefits in the vast majority of cases. In order to prevent addiction treatment from halting because of coronavirus, support groups have moved to the cloud. Currently, numerous rehabilitation centers offer online NA meetings and group therapy sessions to support their patients in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why People With SUD Are At Higher Risk For Coronavirus

Addiction treatment during the coronavirus pandemic is pressing because it can save people not only from life-shattering drug dependence but COVID-19 as well. Research indicates that the virus targets primarily the older population and those who are in recovery from any illness. Pre-existing respiratory conditions and a weakened immune system, in particular, can put a person in danger of suffering severe consequences of contracting COVID-19. People who require drug addiction treatment are at a higher risk because they are more likely to smoke, vape, share syringes and other drug-using equipment, as well as suffer from stigmatization at clinics.

Limited Access To High-Quality Healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic requires a rapid reaction from healthcare professionals to save the lives of the people who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. Unfortunately, the social stigma surrounding those who are in need of addiction treatment may exclude them from the priority lists when hospitals become overcrowded. As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., people who require addiction treatment may slam into barriers separating them from the much-needed healthcare.

History Of Chronic Disease

One of the most crucial factors that determine a person’s resistance to COVID-19 is the individual’s initial state of health. Those needing addiction treatment are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic because their well-being is already undermined by drug use. Smoking marijuana, crack, cocaine, and heroin significantly increases the risk of developing asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), which can be deadly combined with COVID-19. The pandemic is also increasingly dangerous for cocaine and intravenous drug users due to the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases among this population. In 2020, drug addiction centers can save a person’s life not only by helping them overcome drug dependence but by boosting their resistance to coronavirus.

man smokes

Higher Rates Of Smoking And Vaping

Smoking and vaping are both significant aggravating factors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drug users are reported to be more frequent smokers than people who don’t use other drugs apart from nicotine. Coronavirus impacts people who smoke much more heavily than non-smokers because it attacks and damages the lungs. Besides, the respiratory symptoms of smoking and the COVID-19 infection can be complemented with respiratory depression developed from the use of opioid drugs.

Sharing Drug-Using Equipment

The COVID-19 pandemic can be incredibly violent to those who share drug-using equipment, such as bongs and syringes. It is possible to get infected with coronavirus by interacting with an infected object and then touching one’s nose, mouth, or eyes. Although it is not the main way that COVID-19 spreads, the possibility exists, particularly when a certain object is passed around many people. The CDC also notes that coronavirus spreads the fastest when people are in close proximity to each other (less than 6 feet), which is normally the case when sharing drug-using equipment. This way, addiction treatment can shield a person from getting sick while also contributing to the fight against the pandemic.

Coronavirus Pandemic Does Not Cancel Addiction Treatment

The COVID-19 pandemic is devastating to the whole world, and it may seem to many that the time couldn’t be worse to start changing their lives for the better. Coronavirus might be raging in the world for months, and addiction treatment cannot be postponed for such long and indefinite periods. At a rehab center for substance abuse treatment, a person will finally find understanding, help, and support that they need to defeat their addiction in such trying times.

Page Sources

  1. Get Your Clinic Ready for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020.
  2. Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency. Office for Civil Rights. Department of Health & Human Services. 2020.
  3. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4, Withdrawal Management.
  4. Coronavirus. World Health Organization. How COVID-19 Spreads. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020.
  5. COVID-19 - Resources. American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Published on: April 3rd, 2020

Updated on: July 2nd, 2021

About Author

Roger Weiss, MD

Dr. Roger Weiss is a practicing mental health specialist at the hospital. Dr. Weiss combines his clinical practice and medical writing career since 2009. Apart from these activities, Dr. Weiss also delivers lectures for youth, former addicts, and everyone interested in topics such as substance abuse and treatment.