Handling COVID-19 stress without smoking, drug use

THE National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) is urging Jamaicans to pay keen attention to relatives and friends who may struggle with smoking, alcohol and other problematic drug use, as they may be at greater risk for developing complications if they contract the new coronavirus.

Collette Kirlew, NCDA’s director of client services has revealed that council has received “a number of distress calls from clients who are in treatment”.

She said these clients are feeling especially distraught because of COVID-19 — an infectious disease which has so far infected more than 1.1 million people and resulted in more than 60,000 deaths worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University — and that a sense of hopelessness is setting in for some.

“Increased stress, anxiety and fear in times of isolation, quarantine and social distancing is likely to have a greater impact on persons with problematic drug use and can lead to spiralling into further use,” Kirlew is quoted as saying in a release from the council.

The council is encouraging those who might find themselves in this situation to contact its counsellors in order to access support via tele-counselling.

“We are also appealing to persons to stop sending social media content that smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol will boost the system and/or kill COVID-19, as this is incorrect. The evidence is showing the exact opposite, because people who smoke and vape are at greater risk of developing complications, and alcohol when taken excessively can weaken the immune system; so what we need to do is stay away from these substances at this time,” Kirlew emphasised.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers are in contact with lips, which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth.

“Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity, which would greatly increase risk of serious illness,” WHO says.

In the meantime, NCDA is advising those who need help with addressing problematic substance use to contact them at 876-564-HELP (4357). For those who are able to lower use of substances on their own, the council is urging them to promptly do so and replace these behaviours with more healthy ones such as:

• Spending quality time with immediate family members;

• Calling friends and loved ones who can provide emotional support;

• Eating healthy foods to boost the immune system;

• Exercising;

• Getting adequate sleep;

• Journalling thoughts and feelings and making short- and long-term plans.

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