'Nothing to hold on to': As Quebec stats show, managing an addiction isn't easy during COVID

Drinking (Flickr)

Montreal health authorities said Wednesday that substance use is way up, and to one Montrealer, that news was anything but surprising.

Don't just think of people upping their consumption of alcohol and drugs as people developing a new problem, said a man named Manny, who didn't want his last name published.

In many cases, they're like him, he told CTV -- people with a pre-existing addiction who have found their progress slipping away under COVID.

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Manny has had an addiction since age 16 and has been in and out of rehab. The pandemic makes it harder to keep his drinking in check, he said.

"Whether I was in school before or I was working, that adds structure, so there's a certain time of your day where you can't use," he said.

"So without that structure, it seems you have nothing to hold on to. The structure is a big rock that you have."

Drug and alcohol use is especially up among people under age 35. The share of Quebec's population that drinks every day has more than doubled, from 11 per cent to 27 per cent.

The other problem for people struggling with recovery, Manny said, is "the lack of connection" with other people.

"I hear a lot of times in recovery groups that the opposite of addiction isn't sobriety, it's connection, and feeling connected with people," he said.

"It's going to AA meetings, meeting up with friends, conversing and having a positive impact on you to try to deter you from using."

So in the pandemic, he said, "when you're asked to isolate, that's kinda the worst thing for an addict. We're told 'Just stay alone with your thoughts.'"

The idea that the opposite of addiction is connection was popularized by Johann Hari in a well-known TED Talk.

Montreal health officials say help is available at CLSCs, without long wait times.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says those in need sometimes avoid seeking help, partly because of the hassle of going through bureaucracy.

"If you're challenged, you have some mental health challenges, and you say 'Okay, I'm going to go get help... and 15 numbers later as you push every button to get to the final line that's accessible... people lose their spirit," said Karen Hetherington of the association. 

But Manny said he wanted to urge people to keep trying, if they're in that position. Or lean on a friend, call AA, or find a doctor. 

"I can definitely relate because I can only imagine how these people went from feeling like they had control to slowly losing their control as the pandemic goes on," he said.

He also said to remember the most important thing: the pandemic will be over sometime, and maybe not too far away.

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