At 37, Elena has her whole life ahead. She has been using different substances almost since she was a teenager, and it was in the middle of the pandemic that her brain clicked and she finally opened her eyes

The "opportunity" to detox in times of pandemic


Current times of health crisis offer a chance to get off drugs 

Elena today can say proudly and with her head held high that she has taken something very positive out of this pandemic. After years of indecision, she has begun to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel of drugs. A loop that gradually takes you in and is capable of controlling your will until it turns you into someone else. And in her case, confinement was the key to realising that she had to make a 180-degree turn in her life. 

Elena is convinced that the COVID-19 restrictions are playing a key role in her recovery. "Personally - after 3 months of admission - I think that I am finding my recovery more bearable because I think that everyone is at a standstill". Because "stopping drugs is not just about stopping using, it's about radically changing your lifestyle".  

During her confinement she began to use almost daily 

This Madrid native believes that the pandemic has been the trigger for a situation that had already become unsustainable. "In my case, confinement had a bad influence on me. And that's when I started using almost daily," she says. "Drugs go directly to the brain's reward system and generate a feeling of temporary pleasure, which prevents you from focusing on the bad things that are happening to you. Elena also tells us that they were very difficult months in which she began to isolate herself from others, she felt more and more alone, more and more depressed and even spent almost 5 months crying.  


She felt that she was missing out on her daughter's life

Elena decided to take the most important step of her life in September 2020. Since then, she has learned new routines and how to live without substances to alleviate the discomfort. "My head clicked after the summer because I had entered a loop that I couldn't get out of on my own. Every day I kept telling myself that this day was going to be my last, but the next morning my head could only think about using again".  

She hit rock bottom and she had enough of everything around her that had nothing to do with using. "I had pushed away all the people who love me - my family and friends - and the most painful thing was that I was missing out on the life of my 8-year-old daughter". For this reason, she acknowledges that her time at the Árbor rehabilitation centre has helped her to understand what was really happening to her. She had to start a new life. "The first thing I learned is that addiction is a chronic and recurrent disease of the brain, which seeks reward or relief from discomfort through a substance or behaviour," she explains.    

Although she has been in recovery for five months, Elena tells us that it is still too early to see big changes because treatment lasts five years for polydrug addicts and three years for alcoholics. But she is already seeing changes in her personal relationships, especially with her parents and her daughter. "I also notice that I now face things more calmly and from a different perspective, I have better self-esteem and my physical appearance has also improved," she adds. Her main goal today is not to use drugs anymore.  


Looking back, she is convinced that asking for help was the best decision of her life. "It was very hard because I didn't know how long I was going to be in hospital, or how the treatment worked, but it was even harder to see how my life was slipping away without being able to do anything or to see how my parents were suffering helplessly in the face of my situation".    

According to a study by the Spanish Observatory on Drugs and Addictions, 71.9% of addicts stopped or reduced their consumption during the first state of alarm. While 16.3% did not change their habits, and 11.9% even increased their consumption during confinement. The number of emergencies attended for psychoactive substances has decreased since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, with a smaller decrease in the case of women, who mainly attended emergencies for alcohol intoxication and hypnosedatives. Although the majority of ED attendees are men, usually for alcohol and cocaine.  

Less cocaine, more cannabis 

Although the trend during the pandemic has been to reduce consumption in general, the trend for cannabis has been different, with a higher percentage of people who have not changed their habits. As revealed by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction, the reasons for reducing use have been less availability to find drugs, followed by fewer opportunities to use drugs and concern about health effects. Economic reasons are in the minority. 


The pandemic has boosted anxiolytic drug use 

It seems clear that depression and anxiety are proving to be the worst allies in times of pandemic. According to the report on psychology and online therapy in 'Spain in the COVID-19 era', published on the psychology platform iFeel, consultations for anxiety have shot up by 168.6% in the last year, while consultations for depression have increased by 80.9% since the start of the health crisis.   

Dr Javier P.P., a doctor at an addiction centre in Marbella, notes that consultations related to the consumption of anxiolytics have multiplied. He says that during the first phase of the pandemic, the increase in the consumption of benzodiazepines (anxiolytics) and alcohol was very noticeable. The aim of these people is to calm their anxiety, but such drugs cannot be taken lightly because they are also addictive.  

This doctor, who works in addictions, also warns that the reason why there has been an increase in consultations is " because the circumstances of the pandemic mean that people are able to reflect and end up seeking treatment for their addiction". This is something that professionals have been observing for several months. Although this does not mean that consumption has decreased, but rather that addicts are more aware of their problem and have already begun to take action.  

The Fundación de Ayuda contra la Drogadicción (FAD) also believes that confinement has been the key to many addicts opening their eyes, like Elena. Celia Prat, head of the training team at the FAD (The Foundation for Aid Against Drug Addiction), says that "it is possible that confinement has made us reflect on the relationship we have with any substance. And even the difficulty of obtaining these substances may have led users to believe that they needed them more".  

Celia Prat warns that the lack of the substance is the one that generates these situations of tension, increased consumption and later regret. She adds that "confinement leads to greater coexistence with the family and this often creates conflicts". And the false belief that problems will disappear by using has caused many addicts to hit rock bottom. And this is the first step on the long road to recovery.