The COVID-19 pandemic has caused ramifications for nearly every sector, from business and nonprofit to government and healthcare. However, perhaps the biggest impact has been on the community members who find themselves isolated at home, financially insecure and feeling hopeless in the situation at hand.


As the outbreak continues, officials worry those feelings will lead to increases in alcohol and drug use throughout the state and local community — especially for those who already struggle with addiction.


Andrew Allen, CEO and president of YSS, an Ames-based nonprofit providing mental and behavioral health services for youth and families throughout the state, said, “addiction does not take a break for pandemics.”


“I’m convinced that, coming out of this, there are going to be more people pursuing addiction treatment because they’ve gotten so deep into their addiction.”


Despite the amount of people staying at home on a day-to-day basis being at an all-time high due to the pandemic, people across the country also are buying alcohol products 25 percent more compared to last year, according to data measurement company Nielsen, which compiled data of alcohol sales and consumption based off national findings.


A recently-released survey from the American Psychological Association also shows an 8% increase in drug use and alcohol consumption, in addition to a lack of sleep (19 %) and increased fighting with loved ones (24 %).


That heightened scale has not been seen in Ames to the extent of national findings, though it is likely due to the decrease in sales caused by Iowa State University students returning home for the remainder of the semester, according to the owners of two local liquor stores.


Weber Bowen, owner of J.W. Liquor in Ames, said the business actually saw a significant decrease in sales following the university’s closure. It has since “started to pick up and hold its own,” but is still not to the level where it normally would be during graduation.


Cyclone Liquor owner Roger Esser said he thinks more customers are likely purchasing their alcohol from box stores like Walmart and Hy-Vee, rather than local liquor stores, to prevent making extra shopping trips.


“If people don’t want to make that extra step, they don’t come and buy from us, but rather they’ll go to the grocery store,” said Esser, whose business also has a bar in the back which previously hosted wine tasting and liquor classes, but closed March 17 due to the pandemic. “We’ve remained steady, however, we have two licenses and so our bar being closed is definitely affecting us.”


Bowen anticipated a loss of revenue anywhere between 10-25%, and Esser both attribute the loss of revenue to the college students returning home. Customers have, however, began exploring different brands of liquor, he said.


“We had one customer come in the other day who bought a $180 bottle of scotch, when he normally only buys a case of beer, because he said he was bored of the same old stuff,” said Bowen.


And while local sales do not measure up to national increases, Allen said he is “convinced” alcohol and drug usage is increasing locally, and that many who already struggle with addiction will be at risk.


“It’s a coping mechanism,” he said. “We saw it in 2008 when the economy was impacted — people turn to drugs and alcohol to help cope. And through the pandemic, we’re convinced that, again, people are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.”


He said YSS’s inpatient residential addiction treatment program for kids is “just as full as it generally ever is,” though protocol has been put into place to meet the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for sanitation and social distancing.


William Glienke, a social worker in the emergency department at Mary Greeley Medical Center, said he is also worried addiction, and the chances for recovering addicts to relapse, is concerning —especially now that resources for recovery have become limited.


“(Relapse) is a big concern right now,” he said. “Some people being home [due] to quarantine or sheltered at home, may not have much social interaction, so it may be difficult for them to cope, which could lead to relapsed drinking.”


Addiction counseling and programs like Alcohol Anonymous have shifted to virtual meetings due to the current pandemic, and although it is working for some, it is not working for all, said Kevin Gabbert, director of an opioid initiative at the Iowa Department of Public Health.


“We’ve heard that some people think the services being provided virtually can be a little awkward, but we’re hearing that some patients who historically have been kind of reluctant to engage in conversations during therapy being more comfortable now,” Gabbert said.


Gabbert said the state might not notice a drastic increase in people seeking help for months.


“One of the major concerns we’re worrying about is that in many cases (we will be addressing in terms of addiction) might not manifest until six to 12 months down the road, so although the pandemic may end within the next couple of months, we anticipate we will be addressing these issues related to COVID-19 for potentially for a year or more,” Gabbert said.