Managing Addiction during COVID-19

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholic Anonymous, once wrote that “Resentment is the number one offender.” Its toxicity can fan the flames of anger, frustration and sorrow until its blaze is as uncontrollable as wildfire. It can cause the one thing those in recovery fear the most: Relapse.

But while this dangerous sentiment can create a maelstrom of psychological problems and ultimately lead to drug use, individuals with substance abuse disorders face another grave threat: COVID-19.

The virus, which has infected more than a million people and claimed the lives of more than 62,000, has affected us all. It is a universal disease that has forced millions out of work and even more into isolation. But the elderly and immunocompromised are not the only ones vulnerable, addicts are exposed, as well.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the coronavirus disease causes complicated health effects, curtails access to treatment and adds the extra pressure to use again.

Drugs like opioids and methamphetamines can leave a negative impact on respiratory and pulmonary health, and since the virus’ hallmark trait is attacking the lungs, those with opioid and methamphetamine use disorders are at risk. Additionally, addicts are more likely to experience homelessness or be incarcerated than the general population, making it extremely difficult to diagnose, treat and contain those infected.

But it’s the pressure to use again that is particularly precarious because it stems from the executive order to stay home.

In fact, according to Addiction Center, this quarantine is causing a spike in relapses. Boredom, loneliness and fear of the unknown is a gateway to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Routines are being disrupted; the same routines that are rooted in social support and are paramount for people in recovery. But now with social distancing being enforced, sobriety everywhere is being tested.

So in the face of this unforeseen obstacle, what can be done to manage addiction during this time of isolation and emotional stress?

The Cleveland Clinic has a few helpful tips:

Avoid Stock Piling – Weeks leading up to the social distancing order, people began hoarding supplies, including medication and alcohol. This makes it extremely challenging to limit yourself. With a surplus of items at your disposal, temptation is always around the corner. And with no major shortages of mass goods, in either production or distribution, stock piles are unnecessary. The best solution? Get rid of the stashes.

Create Boundaries – Many people are quarantined at home with their families, and that circumstance alone can come with its own set of problems. If there’s tension with a family member, be open and honest. Tell them the situation is a stressor for you and that thoughts of relapse have begun to infiltrate your mind. Social distance yourself from them, if need be. Go for walk and cool off.

Also, limit your exposure to information regarding the pandemic. While it’s important to stay abreast of the situation, do not marinate in it. It’s easy to get sucked into a whirlpool of anxiety-causing stats and stories. So turn off your notifications, don’t click on that article, change the channel, and only retrieve your news updates at a specific time of the day.

Stay Healthy – It seems gratuitous to mention, but proper sleep, exercise and maintaining a healthy diet works wonders. It also helps add an element of structure to your day, and a schedule is nothing if not beneficial for people in recovery. Lean on the virtual world of apps and videos to stay present, exercise and connect with friends, family, support groups and medical professionals. Use FaceTime, FaceBook Messenger, Zoom, House Party (to name a few) to stay in touch, and have fun while doing it. Begin journaling; peruse that well that never dries known as Pinterest for a new arts and crafts project; search
Amazon Prime for a variety of workout videos; and try free applications like Insight Timer for guided meditations.

Outreach and Support – Most importantly, stay connected to the organizations that are helping you stay sober. While face-to face meetings are limited, there are online and over-the-phone appointments available. Centers all over the country are customizing and adjusting treatments and therapies to fit this new normal. The road to recovery has never been an easy one, and with COVID-19, it’s proving a bit harder. But even during this time of deafening loneliness, know this: you’re never alone, we’re all in it together, and this, too, shall pass.