The public has become more aware of mental health since the pandemic uprooted lives across the globe in 2020. One concerning trend is the rise in addiction as Americans turned to substances to cope with the stress and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. We know that increased use of substances correlates with adverse health outcomes and as a result is a powerful social determinant of health. Lifestyle medicine validates that ninety-percent of health problems are derived from six pillars, which include substance abuse.


Alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, results indicated that people who were more impacted by COVID-19 reported large amounts of alcohol intake in both quantity and number of days consumed. Sales of alcohol correlate to this finding as a Columbia University study showed that between March and September of 2020, alcohol sales rose 20% in comparison to 2019. ODMAP reported an 18% increase in overdoses in the first few months of the pandemic in relation to the year prior and according to the CDC, 13% of Americans began using substances or surged their existing usage to cope with stress during the pandemic.


With these statistics, it’s evident that workplaces ought to become more open and transparent around mental health challenges and substance abuse, which are highly correlated. And having greater access to optimal, primary care where patients feel safe and heard by their healthcare providers is paramount to preventing disease, curbing substance abuse and addressing mental health challenges. Employers can do so much good by introducing direct primary care (DPC) to their staff because the statistics show with DPC there is increased utilization amongst patients and when patients see their health care providers more often, prevention of disease is more likely achieved.


DPC physicians are often family physicians who are well-informed about mental health and according to the AAFP, these clinicians already provide care to 40% of patients seeking treatment related to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health issues. The value in DPC is in the quality care that patients receive and the freedom for physicians to focus their time on providing this care. By removing the bureaucracy of corporate owned medicine, the sacred healing relationship between doctor and patient is restored and clinicians can take care of the whole patient and truly provide holistic health. The mind and body are one, which means mental and physical health are very much intertwined. This mind and body connection is honored in DPC and can help address many preventative health issues plaguing Americans.


Employers play an important role in health outcomes since most Americans access healthcare via health plan coverage from their employers. In addition to providing DPC as a benefit, employers can also have support groups where staff are able to find allies for encouragement and where they can feel safe and improve their daily habits. One such example is Soberforce, a group that employees at Salesforce created to support sobriety, instigated by a regional VP who confessed her alcoholism and challenging journey to remain sober via a company-wide email. 


Health is a communal effort and in order to achieve our best health, we need support in our community and work is very much a large part of that. If you’re an employer, benefits advisor or third party administrator interested in learning more about how to implement direct primary care, visit Hint Connect, our growing DPC Network designed to provide a standardized benefit via one touchpoint.