top of page

COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Patients, Families & Individuals in Recovery from a SUD

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

Explore Resources


This report from the Addiction Policy Forum sheds light on the experiences of patients and impacted individuals on emotional and health consequences of COVID-19, overdose rates and barriers in safely accessing care during the pandemic. Supported in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Key Takeaways

Addiction Policy Forum conducted a pilot study to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on individuals with a SUD and to inform future research. Results show that:

  • More than one in three (34%) of the 1,079 respondents reported changes or disruptions in accessing treatment or recovery support services.

  • Fourteen percent say they were unable to receive their needed services and 2% say they were unable to access naloxone services.

  • Nationwide, 4% of respondents report an overdose has occurred since the pandemic began. The South Atlantic region reported the greatest number and percent of overdoses. The region includes Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and the District of Columbia.

  • Twenty-four percent of respondents indicate that their/their family member’s substance use has changed because of COVID-19, with 20% reporting increased substance use.

Respondents cited the lack of access to in-person 12-step or support group meetings as a primary concern. Comments on changes to services included: “The closing of Recovery drop-in, peer-run recovery centers. No ability to socialize/connect or get peer support.” Another respondent commented: “Meetings have all been reduced to Zoom and it has had an impact on feeling supported by peers and getting a good recovery message.” A family member participant added, “the inability of attending meetings in person and meeting a sponsor in person has been very difficult for my child.” Another respondent said: “Doing online meetings are not the same as going to a meeting.”

The anonymous survey was conducted between April 27 and May 8, 2020 and disseminated via the Addiction Policy Forum’s nationwide network of patients with SUD, individuals in recovery, and family members impacted by SUD. The majority of participants were white, non-Hispanic (88%), female (66%), over the age of 26 (95%), and college-educated (55%).

This survey was deployed rapidly to gain a snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 on the SUD community. Broad interpretation of this survey is limited by participant characteristics and additional research is needed. More studies are needed that include larger, representative samples to uncover individual, social, cultural, economic, geographic, and other factors that interact with both SUD and COVID-19.


Jessica Hulsey, president, Addiction Policy Forum

Alexandra Mellis, postdoctoral research fellow, Neuroscience Institute of the New York University School of Medicine

Braeden Kelly, vice president, Addiction Policy Forum


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page