Reopening post-pandemic could trigger Canadians battling addiction, experts warn

Click to play video: 'How COVID-19 reopening impacts Canadians battling addiction?'
How COVID-19 reopening impacts Canadians battling addiction?
WATCH: While many Canadians are excited about provinces reopening, for those battling addiction the massive change in routine can spark a new struggle. Especially for those who are trying to stay sober. Global News health reporter Jamie Mauracher explains – Jul 15, 2021

For 46-year-old Mark White, the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, created the perfect conditions for his addiction to thrive.

“I started to really self isolate in my garage and the using just got out of control,” the Sudbury, Ont., resident told Global News. “I couldn’t go five minutes without getting a drink or drug in my body.”

Noticing White was struggling, a former friend, he said, warned his family he needed help. In September 2020, the father of two checked into the Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) in Port Hope.

Now eight months sober, White tells Global News that Ontario reopening is making him nervous.

“It’s like I haven’t left my treatment centre, because, you know, the world wasn’t operating and functioning as a normal environment during this pandemic,” White said. “I’m inside the safety of my four walls at home.”

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It’s a shift many other Canadians will also have to face, experts say.

Over the course of the pandemic, Christina Doughty, program manager for the CCFA, told Global News the centre has seen a 41-per-cent increase in calls seeking urgent care.

A report from Statistics Canada released Monday revealed throughout the pandemic, overdose and alcohol-related deaths increased in Canadians under 65, with 5,535 more deaths than expected recorded in Canada between March 2020 and April 2021.

Come fall, the CCFA plans to open a new facility to try to keep up with growing demand, which Doughty expects to only increase post-pandemic.

Click to play video: 'Overcoming addiction'
Overcoming addiction

“If you are used to just sitting at home, working from home and then you have to go and be social and engaged in a work environment, that can be triggering for a lot of people,” she said.

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According to a government report from March, stress, boredom and loneliness were some of the main reasons Canadians chose to use a substance in lockdown. That’s partly why Andrew Kim, an assistant professor of psychology at Ryerson University, is hoping a return-to-normal will actually help those battling addiction.

“They can start to go out, they can socialize, they can meet friends, and they have other things that they could do to help reduce a lot of these negative feelings and negative affect that they may be having,” he said.

But Kim, who also directs Ryerson’s Addictions and Mental Health Laboratory, says ultimately, the effects of reopening will vary for each individual and may be most trying for those who have become successfully sober.

“I think one of the biggest things that people can do is to be aware of their high-risk triggers,” he said. “To think, ‘OK, so what are the situations now that we are reopening that I may be tempted or might be really difficult for me to resist the urge to drink or engage in the addictive behaviour?'”

Kim said for these people, pre-planning is best.

“I think it’s just taking some time to know what are those situations, that now we are going to be reopening, that’s going to be the most difficult for you? And ‘what can I do to mitigate those risks?'” he said.

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Kim also stressed that to combat the rise in depression, anxiety and addiction in Canada, people need to have access to services — a system currently overwhelmed.

Mark White with his family. Photo supplied

With Ontario heading into Stage 3 of its reopening plan on Friday, White said staying on track won’t be easy. But he has made a promise to himself: “That recovery comes before anything in my life,” he said.

“It is more important than the love I have for my family and my children, even my wife, because without recovery, I don’t I don’t have them.”

He added that he will reach out for help if he needs it.

White said anyone who feels they are in a similar position to his should not hesitate to seek assistance.

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“You’ve got to want to do this for yourself,” he said.

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