Successful Addiction Recovery During a Crisis
The world is an uncertain place right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s left many people feeling anxious, isolated, and afraid for the future. Due to recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people have been taking shelter in their homes to minimize the risk of spreading the disease. Unfortunately, this has led to many therapists, healthcare providers, and peer support groups to move to online services, or even postpone providing services indefinitely. Other resources have become more and more difficult to access, and the nature of isolation has left many recovering addicts feeling lost and anxious. In this article, we will discuss ways in which you can continue to be successful in your recovery during a crisis like this.
- Learn to recognize the signs of relapse.
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. Here are some signs that a relapse may be on the horizon:
- High levels of stress. 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.
- Change in attitude and mood. If you notice that you are feeling hopeless about things you were once passionate about (i.e. attending recovery meetings, connecting with family and friends, etc), this could be an indicator of relapse.
- Denial of change in mood. You find yourself experiencing the aforementioned changes in mood, but are continuously denying those feelings or attempting to pretend that you are fine. Because of this, you may prevent yourself from reaching out for help, which in turn could leave you even more susceptible to relapse.
- Recurrence of withdrawal symptoms. It is possible to experience withdrawal symptoms, even after your detox period has “ended.” These are called post-acute withdrawal symptoms, and they can resurface during times of stress.
- Behavior changes. You may notice yourself slipping back into old behavior patterns that existed when you were in the midst of addiction.
- Decline in socialization. In normal life, avoidance of social situations and isolation can be a sign that you need help. In the case of mandatory quarantine or a crisis of another kind, this may simply involve avoidance of connection with family and friends, through whatever means. Ignoring texts, declining calls, etc.
- Change in routine. Having a routine post-detox can be extremely helpful in staying sober. But these days, everyone’s routines have been forcibly shaken up. It’s likely that experienced some sort of breakdown in your routine under these circumstances.
- Poor judgment/making poor decisions. This is where things may really start to break down. You may begin having trouble making decisions or find yourself making unhealthy decisions. These decisions may be spurred from irrational anger, confusion, stress, irritation, etc. After making these choices, you may be unable to manage the consequences, causing things in your life to spiral out of control.
- Thinking of going back to your addiction. Feelings of hopelessness may cause you to entertain thoughts of “just having one drink” in an attempt to make yourself feel better. You may think you can control it, and you won’t become addicted again.
- Establish a new routine.
Routine is very important in the life of a recovering addict. Sticking to a schedule can create much-needed stability and a sense of purpose for people. Unfortunately, most people’s routines have been completely upset by the stay-at-home orders. But this doesn’t mean you can’t make a new one! Create a new day-to-day routine that feels productive and offers you a sense of accomplishment. Don’t forget to incorporate exercise, time for socialization, and your hobbies!
- Minimize idle alone time.
Boredom can be dangerous. And the longer you sit alone with your thoughts, the risk of negativity seeping into your thoughts will rise. Eight Row chef and recovered addict David Nichols had this to say in an article in the Seattle Eater: “The challenges of feeling isolated are daunting, especially for addicts. The times when my drinking was at its worst, I wouldn’t go out to bars — it was me drinking alone in my apartment. The addict in me was at its best when alone, because no one was around to question it or offer some kind of distraction from it, and I could continue to drink uninhibited, slipping deeper into despair and self-loathing.” This is true for many addicts, which is why it is important that you stay connected to others and to doing things that keep your mind busy in a healthy way.
- Stay active.
Just because we have been advised to avoid public gatherings, events, and groups, doesn’t mean the outdoors are off limits! In fact, getting outside and staying active has been encouraged by many of our world leaders, as it can help keep us sane and happy. Exercise and physical activity boosts endorphins to make us feel good and eliminate stress. You don’t have to do anything too crazy at first, just adding a handful of brisk 30-minute walks into your weekly routine will be a huge benefit to your mental and physical well-being. You can slowly increase your activity as you feel stronger and more motivated. This will also help you develop more structure in your new daily and weekly routines.
- Eat well.
A lot of people have found themselves bored at home, and as a result may turn to constant snacking just to give them something to do! However, this isn’t the best for our health. What we eat has a huge impact on not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Eating fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, plenty of protein, and generally focusing on consuming a whole food, combined with cutting out sugar and processed foods is one of the best things you can do to begin healing yourself from within.
- Stay informed, but limit exposure to sensationalized media.
Staying on top of emerging information is crucial, but if you’re not careful with the news you consume, it can easily overwhelm you. Ensure that you are only getting information from reputable sources such as the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO). If you see something and you want to know more, we implore you to fact-check.
- Take it one day at a time.
You may feel pressured to use this time at home to its fullest potential. While this is admirable, and you should definitely focus on self improvement if you have the capacity, but also know that it is okay to just exist and do the best you can. We are going through a collective trauma as a nation, and it’s okay to not be okay during this time. Just because we are all at home and some of us may have a lot of extra free time, doesn’t mean we need to feel pressured to overload ourselves with tasks. Take it one day at a time, and be kind to yourself.