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The Pandemic Worsened the Isolation of Addiction

For 50 years, Toby Nigh had what he describes as the perfect life. He had a good job, a happy family, and if you had asked him, he would have told you that he was really lucky. Then his perfect life fell to pieces in 2018. One day at work he picked up a 30-pound machine and blew out the L4-L5 disc in his back. A surgery led to an infection, which required another surgery, and then another. He was left weak and in pain.

He battled ongoing infections for a year and a half, and in the midst of it all, he lost the job he’d had all his life. The pain, trauma, and anger were too much to bear. He found relief in methamphetamines. He said, “I wanted to bury the pain—the physical pain, the mental pain. I made a very bad decision.”

Things got worse for Toby in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic reached America. He said, “So when the pandemic hit, I’m thinking, If I get it, I die. I went in my basement, and I closed myself in, and my addiction became bigger and stronger.”

According to stats from the CDC, Toby wasn’t the only one who responded that way. Within a few months of the start of the pandemic, more than 40,000 Americans self-reported new or increased substance abuse. It seems people turned to drugs as a way of coping. That number is probably low. By the year’s end, the country saw a record 91,799 drug overdose deaths, up from 70,630 in 2019. In 2021, more than 100,000 died from an overdose.

Gary Blackard, CEO of a Christian drug and alcohol recovery program, has seen the pandemic’s impacts firsthand. He said, “One of the worst things you can do with someone who is struggling with addiction is isolating them. To put someone in isolation who is struggling that way certainly exacerbates the addiction and the struggles.”

Today by God’s grace Toby is free of his addiction. He served time in prison. He got off drugs. He developed a deeper relationship with God in a faith-centered recovery house. He always believed, he said, but it wasn’t personal before.

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