COVID-19 and Addiction: Finding Sobriety or Remaining Sober in the Unknown
As the world begins to tighten it’s reign over non-essential travel and group gatherings, there is likely one unintended side-effect that we are going to see (and that no one has truly thought of), the rise in drug and alcohol relapses.
In 2017, studies showed there were “19.7 million Americans aged 12 and older battling a substance use disorder… About 74 percent of those individuals reported an alcohol use disorder, while 38 percent reported an illicit drug use disorder” (Hein, 2020). Due to the fact that COVID-19 attacks the lungs, those who are currently using substances or are in recovery are at a higher risk of infection. Let’s take a look at some of these comorbidities:
- Smoking cigarettes or marijuana and vaping, is harmful to lung health. Early emerging evidence on the effects of vaping suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung which in turn diminishes the ability to respond to infection.
- People who use prescribed or illicit opioids at high doses are at risk due to the fact that opioids act in the brainstem to slow breathing which may cause a harmful decrease in oxygen in the blood.
- Use methamphetamines puts individuals at risk since methamphetamines constrict the blood vessels, which is one of the properties that contributes to pulmonary damage and pulmonary hypertension
Therefore, people with an active substance abuse disorder are at an increased vulnerability due to those drugs’ effects on respiratory and pulmonary health (NIH, 2020). Now more than ever, sobriety and continued recovery maintenance needs to be reinforced. But how does one accomplish this when we are mandated to “shelter at home?”
Isolation and anxiety are two of the biggest triggers to relapse. As COVID-19 continues to spread, we as humans are retreating into our homes and away from our support systems. We are being forced into isolation while one of the most anxiety producing elements is wreaking havoc. “Feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, loneliness and boredom can easily escalate particularly during this time” (Hulkow as cited in Hein, 2020), especially when Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings have been cancelled. Those struggling to get sober or stay sober create an environment around them that supports their recovery. They work with their sponsor, attend meetings, participate in preparing for their meetings, schedule meals and coffee get-togethers around their meeting schedules, and fill their time accordingly. So the goal is to find ways to keep this routine and utilize supports as much as possible.
Ways to cope:
- Stay virtually engaged in the program you have already been working. Attend online meetings and forums, read recovery-oriented literature, and practice prayer and meditation.
- Remain in contact with non-recovery supports. Stay connected via social media, calls, FaceTime, text, Skype, or Zoom. Use this time for more meaningful conversations, not just to discuss sports or the weather.
- Journal thoughts and feelings, complete arts and crafts projects, be creative and stay present. Use the time to start a new project or hobby that you have been wanting to try. There is almost no better way to get out of your head than by doing something with your hands. It will also add value to your day which helps to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.
- Maintain the big 3: healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise. At this time, we are still allowed outside to get regular exercise (so long as we follow social distancing).
- If you need professional support, please reach out to myself (contact information is in my Clinician Bio) or any of Berks County’s local agencies. We are all offering Telehealth services during this time.
For those living with or helping to support someone in recovery, you can provide support by creating a safe and healthy environment around the home and by creating opportunities for open and honest communication. Please remember the signs of relapse so that you can get additional help if needed. Signs of relapse include: change in attitude, loss of daily structure, poor self-care, elevated stress, emotional reactivity, impulsive behavior, social isolation, and physical symptoms of either intoxication or withdrawal.
Stay safe everyone! Remember that although you may feel isolated, you are not alone. We are all in this together. Reach out to your support, you never know who may need that contact too!
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselor
AA (Berks): http://www.readingberksintergroup.org
NA Reading: http://rascna.org/meetings/
Hein, Alexandria. (2020, March 30). Coronavirus causing rise in drug, alcohol relapses among people in recovery, expert says Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/health/coronavirus-poses-risk-relapse-among-individuals-recovery-expert-says?fbclid=IwAR2EsyheJ44dAsFosDmimLRsk0VIibOJl1lfRyHlhaGgMpV1UbaBoftZMH0
Hicks, Tony. (2020, March 22). How People in Addiction Recovery Are Dealing with the Isolation of COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/coronavirus-isolation-can-be-difficult-for-people-with-addictions
NIH. (2020, March 24). COVID-19: Potential Implications for Individuals with Substance Use Disorders