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Substance-abuse issues driven by pandemic

By John Seelmeyer
Published: Last Updated on
Cocktails to-go from Land Ocean. Image: Nora Tarte

The number of people seeking treatment for alcohol and drug issues in the Reno-Sparks area is rising dramatically, and remote-work arrangements appear to be among the driving factors.

Substance-abuse caseloads at Reno Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, a freestanding 124-bed facility in south Reno, were up by 30% during 2020 compared with the previous year.

The increase is a direct result of the pandemic, says Rebekah Verdugo, a licensed social worker and licensed alcohol and drug counselor who’s the hospital’s director of clinical services.

The pandemic limited or shut down many of the support systems used by people in recovery from alcohol and drug issues. Support-group meetings and therapy sessions, for instance, were cancelled or moved online.

The companionship of a workplace often provides additional support, and the move to remote work created difficulties for many in recovery.

Recovering patients — or even social drinkers who faced new stresses in their lives — turned to substance use before or during work hours as well as the traditional post-work cocktail hours, Verdugo says.

“Addiction flourishes in isolation,” she says. “In addiction therapy we never want patients to do it alone. So, when they are forced to isolate, that whole premise of recovery is thrown out.”

Without the support systems they needed, many people in recovery relapsed and sought admission to facilities such as Reno Behavioral Healthcare.

At the same time, Verdugo says pandemic-related isolation appears to have caused many social drinkers to increase their alcohol use as the pandemic and its restrictions brought waves of depression, anger and fear.

“Many of them reported they began drinking to cope with these emotions, and not having any of their regular activities open to them caused them to drink more,” Verdugo says.

But substance use didn’t provide a long-term solution.

“Many of these patients came to our facility when their substance use was no longer working and had begun to cause other problems in their lives,” says Verdugo.

Reno Behavioral Healthcare, which is owned by Signature Healthcare Services LLC of Corona, California, opened its facility near the Target store on Sierra Center Parkway in 2018.

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