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Drug Use During Coronavirus Quarantines Is Changing How People Get High
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With nightclubs, bars, and concert venues closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, partiers have turned to getting intoxicated while home alone or socializing online. That means some folks will consume fewer drugs, while others will start consuming more.
Published on May 6, 2020

State-issued stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines are changing how people consume drugs. And now, an international survey group intends to find out how, exactly, these changes are affecting consumption patterns and party culture.

On Tuesday, the Huffington Post reported that Dr. Adam Winstock is already studying how drug use has changed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Winstock is a professor of psychiatry and an addiction consultant at the University College London. He also runs the Global Drug Survey, which studies drug-use behaviors around the world. 

How does Winstock anticipate the impact of self-quarantines on drug consumption behaviors? “It’s going to vary by drug type,” he said. “My guess is for the majority of people, their use will diminish,” he says.

Winstock noted that most of the UK’s cocaine and MDMA users only consume in social environments, such as at raves or at bars. Since these crowded events have been indefinitely shut down during the COVID-19 crisis, the opportunities for doing these so-called “club drugs” are gone, for now. That means, overall, there should be less consumption of these substances. 

“It’s probably not that much fun doing half a gram of coke and a couple of pints when you’re stuck at home, as opposed to being at the pub or a club with your mates,” he said.

Whether someone increases or decreases their drug consumption depends on why they’re getting high in the first place, too. For instance, “Paula” (not her real name) told HuffPo that she and her boyfriend are taking more psychedelics now during the lockdown than they did during the pre-COVID-19 era. 

Acid plugs you into the beauty and hilarity of the world, and also enables you to explore big and scary notions, as does MDMA in a similar but softer way,” she said. “There’s this sense of heightened and intensified reality anyway, so being in altered states sort of aligns you with that.”

But, not everyone is getting lifted under lockdowns. “Jonathan,” a teenager who lives with his parents, told HuffPo that although he was now experimenting with drug combinations he wouldn’t have tried before self-quarantining, the volume of his consumption has reduced dramatically. 

“In lockdown, you can’t just walk round your house high if your family members don’t support drug use,” he said

The biggest risk that COVID-19 presents to drug users is isolation. According to David Stuart, a speaker and author who promotes awareness of chemsex, said that isolation increases the risk of developing a drug addiction or relapsing into old addictive behaviors. And Dr. Winstock also warned that social isolation could compel some people to increase their drug use to relieve boredom, depression, anxiety, or stress. 

For Winstock, the coronavirus may ultimately work as a double-edged sword. Some former heavy users may realize their lives are better after abstaining from use during self-quarantine. But for others, there may be a “second peak of risk,” where they rush out after the nightlife reopens, binging on booze and drugs to a dangerous degree. 

Here’s to hoping that the first round of global quarantines will be the only ones. After all, who knows how drug consumers will react if there’s a second surge of coronavirus outbreaks, and lockdowns resume indefinitely? 

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Randy Robinson
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Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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