Staying mindful of substance use during self-isolation


During this time of self-isolation when many of our routines have been significantly disrupted, it can feel really tempting to begin our afternoon happy hours an hour earlier than usual, or to partake in recreational drugs more often than normal. Increased substance use during this pandemic can quickly become a slippery slope, and it’s important that we’re extra mindful how much of our routines are changing.

While we emphasize that these are not normal times, we don’t want to “re-enter” the post-pandemic world worse off than we started. The goal here is to survive, and that means maintaining our mental and physical health as much as possible. Here are some things to consider regarding substance use during isolation:

Know the “why” behind your use

Are you using substances to “take the edge off” your anxiety, stress, or fear? This is fine every once in a while, but you want to avoid making this a regular, go-to coping mechanism. ‘Drowning’ your feelings doesn’t make them go away - it may temporarily numb or muffle them, but they will always come back to the surface, often more intensely than before. If you’re a parent and you feel like the only alone time you may or may not get is in the washroom, that glass of wine at 3pm may seem absolutely essential. The trick here is to identify a couple other ways that you can try to wind down and relax that don’t rely on substances like reading, chatting with a friend, doing a short yoga video, or making a cup of tea. This way you can rely on more than one strategy and maintain a healthier sense of balance overall.

Be mindful of which parts of your routine have changed

If you’re using substances to fill the void in activity in your days, make an effort to restructure your daily at-home schedules to more accurately reflect your pre-isolation schedule. If you normally wake up and begin work by 9am, keep doing that. If you would typically workout or go for a walk in the evening, stick to that. If you’re using substances because you don’t know what else to do, try replicating more of your routine to fill your days with healthier activities.

If you’re bored, get creative

If you’re using substances more than normal because “why not?”, try to make it a goal to try one or two new activities a week. These could be different hobbies like cooking, painting, graphic design, DIY crafts, rearranging or redecorating your space with what you already have, playing games with your partner or family (including digital ones if you live alone!), or gardening. Try something you’ve never done before - you have nothing to lose and lots of time at home to do it.

Remember that the internet isn’t real life

Though we most often hear the word “peer pressure” surrounding teens and adolescents, peer pressure affects adults too. Many of us are spending more time on social media than ever before, perhaps because we think it will make us feel less isolated, or simply because we’re bored and are embracing the “mindless scroll.” Remember that just because people are making funny videos or posting photos about substance use, it doesn’t mean that A) they’re actually drinking at 9am, or B) that it must be ok for you to do it too. Much of social media exists for comedic purposes, so remember that there is a difference between making a joke and being funny and actually acting it out.

Finally, remember that boundaries exist for a reason - they help keep us safe and healthy

Just as the age-old saying goes, you can have most everything in moderation. Using substances recreationally is perfectly fine, but when you start using them regularly during the day, or even every day, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate your habits.

The bottom line is to be aware of how much your substance use has changed from pre-isolation. If your substance use is heavier some weeks than others, don’t beat yourself up - that’s normal. We are all in uncharted waters during this pandemic - don’t forget to be patient, kind, and compassionate with both yourself and others.