Wellness forum recap: Substance use and recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Department of Psychiatry, Employee Assistance Program, and COPE are teaming up to give a series of brief, practical presentations to help you manage stress and cope effectively during this challenging time.

Alison Lynch, MD, University of Iowa clinical professor of psychiatry and family medicine, and Kathleen Huisinga, LISW, UI addiction medicine counselor, discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting people’s substance use and the treatment options and resources that are currently available.

Here are a few takeaways from the forum:

    • Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease. Prevention and treatment approaches for addiction are generally helpful.
    • The standard recommended amounts of alcohol consumption, according to the the Iowa Department of Public Health:
      • Women: No more than three drinks per day or in a sitting or seven drinks per week
      • Men: No more than four drinks per day or in a sitting or 14 drinks per week
      • Over 65: No more than three drinks per day or in a sitting or seven drinks per week
    • There are two different kinds of higher risk drinking:
      • Binge drinking
        • Women: Four or more drinks in a two-hour period
        • Men: Five or more drinks in a two-hour period
      • Heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking for five or more days in a month.
        • Medical consequences of higher risk drinking:
          • Alcohol dependence
          • Liver disease
          • Insomnia or memory loss
          • Depression or anxiety
          • Suppression of immune system
          • Vitamin or nutritional deficiencies
          • Blood issues, such as clots or anemia
        • How do you know if your substance use is a problem?
          • The substance is controlling you, or you can’t control the amount you are drinking or using.
          • It is interfering with work, family, or your social life.
          • You get physically ill when trying to stop.
        • Treatment and recovery options:
          • Detox is the process of moving from ongoing substance use to not using.
            • There are detox centers in the community that provide medically monitored treatment. Detox is only the beginning of the recovery process.
            • Alcohol and benzodiazepines are the most common substances that require detox. Going through withdrawal from these substances can be more medically risky. Seek medical assistance to make sure you are not at higher risk for complications.
          • Residential programs provide a place to go and stay to receive treatment for a few weeks to a month. Most programs in Iowa are still open, functioning, and accepting clients.
          • Outpatient groups at UI Hospitals & Clinics are currently offering online programs.
          • Medication for addiction treatment
            • A prescription is needed and it is often combined with counseling or groups for opioid, alcohol, or nicotine use disorders
          • Many mutual support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, have moved to online meetings.
        • Harm Reduction is about meeting people where they are at by focusing on reducing risks and the negative health consequences of substance use. Harm reduction groups often distribute clean needles for people using IV drugs, to reduce the risk of infection, and naloxone (Narcan), a medication designed to quickly reverse an opioid overdose.
        • Tips for approaching those with substance use problems:
          • Know it may be difficult and may not go the way you hoped, but it is an important starting point.
          • Come from a place of support, care, and concern instead of assigning blame.
          • Seeking out support for yourself can also be important.


See all past forums


  1. These two women saved my life! Dr.Lynch, Kathleen, Sam, and the rest of the team have worked very hard to piece me back together again. After nearly 20 years of daily opiate on September 2nd I made the decision to quit. I’m still under Dr Lynch’s care and truly believe recovery is possible for anyone. Thank you for everything!

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