In a time like this with the entire nation (and much of the world) on lock-down due to COVID-19, addiction treatment programs have made the transition to online-only. This includes post-recovery treatment such as therapy, doctor’s appointments, peer support groups, etc. You would think that this would have an adverse effect on the number of people seeking addiction treatment, as it has seemingly become more difficult to access adequate care. However, you might be surprised to learn that, actually, the number of people seeking treatment for their addiction has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is this? We will discuss the reasoning and implications of this increase in this article.
Why the sudden increase in people seeking help?
Unfortunately, the biggest reason for the increase seems to be a reaction to the isolating nature of quarantine. Boredom can be dangerous. And the longer you sit alone with your thoughts, the risk of negativity seeping into your thoughts will rise. Most addicts didn’t fully indulge in their addictions out at bars or restaurants, but rather in the privacy of their own homes, drinking or using drugs alone. This is because no one is around to question or distract from the compulsion to drink or use drugs. Current and former addicts now have more idle time to fill with engaging in vices, causing them to slip further into despair and self-hatred.
Dr. Tom Barrett, professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver explained that mental health needs increase during times of crisis, like COVID-19. As fears of the unknown and disconnectedness to the outside world that comes along with mass social isolation spike, people dealing with substance abuse issues become increasingly vulnerable. Additionally, as more people are spending more time at home, relationships with other members of the household, namely family members and significant others, are being tested. This increased tension can be another source of stress. These new environments and mandatory close quarters has led to a worldwide increase in domestic violence. All of these things alone are bad enough, but mix in the negative effects of isolation with panic, uncertainty, and depression, and it’s a lethal combination.
What are the implications?
Not only does this COVID-19 pandemic affect current and former addicts, but may even cause people who have never struggled with addiction before to pick up a bad habit. According to Arizona State University counseling program professors Dr. James Bludworth and Jennifer Pereira, Americans are turning to unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms. Alcohol and marijuana sales are soaring, gaming and TV bingeing are increasing, and a lot of people are eating more and exercising much less.
Advice on how to cope from experts
Dr. Bludworth’s advice is to take a page from the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) handbook. He says that a great way for people to cope with feelings of distress during Covid-19 is to learn three essential skills:
- Accepting the present situation for what it is and what it is not.
- Distracting oneself from self-destructive behaviors.
To read more about DBT methods and learn more about how to develop the coping mechanisms above, check out Positive Psychology’s resources on all-things DBT.
Pereira’s advice is to deal with negative reactions by:
- Give some thought to what normally works to calm and center yourself.
- Work to control what you can actually control, and be realistic about the things you can’t.
- Stay as present as possible in the current moment. Don’t let yourself spin out into the unknown of the coming weeks and months.
- Be gentle with yourself and recognize that you may not be feeling productive, motivated, energized, well-rested at this time – and that’s OK.
- Find creative ways to connect consistently with others.
- Take time to reconnect with yourself – finding humor; engaging in mindfulness, meditation and exercise; attending to diet, etc.
Stay ahead of relapses
Researchers have estimated that up to 80% of people who find long-term sobriety relapse at least once along the way. And with the situation we are all in right now, many of the causes of relapse have increased in our lives tenfold. During a global or national crisis, it is crucial to recognize the signs that you may be headed for a relapse so you can do what needs to be done to stop it from creeping up on you. High stress is one of the leading causes of addiction, as there is a strong relationship between the two. Experiencing stress in one’s life is completely normal and even healthy, but too much stress can become overwhelming and too much for one person to handle. In the throes of a global crisis, stress levels are through the roof. Because of this, learning how to manage stress is paramount.
If you find yourself experiencing high levels of stress, changes in attitude or mood, random recurrences of withdrawal symptoms, behavior changes, decline in socialization, poor judgment or decision-making, or thinking about going back to using drugs or alcohol, these may be signs of an impending relapse. If you are experiencing any of these, we urge you to reach out to someone immediately. The longer you let these feelings linger, the more susceptible you will become to relapsing.
More resources for those in recovery
It’s important to spread awareness about the many resources available to recovering addicts and their families during this time. No one should have to suffer alone.
For Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, visit aaspeaker.com
For Narcotics Anonymous meetings, visit neveraloneclub.org
There is also an online recovery community called In the Rooms, which offers virtual meetings.
And a list of online forums and communities, courtesy of Addictions and Recovery:
- AA Intergroup (aa-intergroup.org)
- Addiction Recovery Guide (addictionrecoveryguide.org)
- Addiction Survivors (addictionsurvivors.org)
- NA Chat (na-chat.com)
- Quit Smoking Support (quitsmokingsupport.com)
- Recovery Zone (recoveryzone.org) Complete audio version of the Big Book.
- Soberistas (soberistas.com)
- Support Groups (supportgroups.com) Covering a wide range of issues including: addiction, depression, anxiety and suicide
- 12 Step Forums (12stepforums.net)
Remember that all of this is temporary
When we are in these times of crisis (like the Covid-19 pandemic), it can be difficult to feel as though we can persevere. As the days blur together and negative news headline after negative news headline crowds our brains, we can sink further and further into depression if we do not maintain a sense of logic about the current situation. Humanity has recovered from much, much worse, and although our feelings about the current situation are valid, it is also important to remember that things will not be like this forever. We just have to take it day by day, and try our best to exercise healthy coping mechanisms and try to come out of this thing stronger and healthier than we were before!
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Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 888.512.1705.