Recovering from substance use disorders during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic: A mixed-methods longitudinal study of women in Kansas City

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 Oct;129:108378. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108378. Epub 2021 Mar 20.


Aims: During the early months of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak, women suffered disproportionate burdens of pandemic-related psychological and economic distress. We aimed to describe the experiences of women in substance use disorder (SUD) recovery programs by (1) exploring the pandemic's impact on their lives, sobriety, and recovery capital and (2) tracking COVID-19 perceptions and preventative behaviors.

Methods: We conducted monthly semistructured interviews with women in residential and outpatient SUD recovery programs in Kansas City in April, May, and June 2020. Participants described the pandemic's impact on their life and sobriety and completed survey items on factors related to COVID-19 preventative behaviors. We interpreted qualitative themes longitudinally alongside quantitative data.

Results: In 64 interviews, participants (n = 24) described reduced access to recovery capital, or resources that support sobriety, such as social relationships, housing, employment, and health care. Most experienced negative impacts on their lives and feelings of stability in March and April but maintained sobriety. Four women described relapse, all attributed to pandemic stressors. Participants described relief related to societal re-opening in May and June, and increased engagement with their communities, despite rising infection rates.

Conclusions: For women recovering from SUDs during COVID-19, securing recovery capital often meant assuming greater COVID-19 risk. As substance use appeared to have increased during the pandemic and COVID-19 transmission continues, public health planning must prioritize adequate and safe access to recovery capital and timely distribution of vaccines to people struggling with SUDs.

Keywords: COVID-19; Mixed-methods; Phenomenology; Recovery capital; Sobriety; Substance use disorders; Substance use recovery; U.S.; Women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kansas / epidemiology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology