Harvard: Addiction Recovery During COVID-19 Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic and the counter-measures to contain and beat it brought about a time of uncertainty, stress and anxiety for many people around the world. This situation can create a sense of behavioral paralysis and disengagement from daily tasks and obligations. Therefore, healthy coping strategies are essential – especially given the fact that support systems people normally use to manage existing health problems have been altered or eliminated.
Addiction might be especially difficult to manage during the COVID-19 pandemic
A history of addiction and its psychiatric comorbidity might increase risk for COVID-19 harm. COVID-19 also might create conditions that threaten recovery and sobriety. People in recovery often require connection and community, for instance through ongoing therapy and/or involvement in mutual help intervention groups. So, although addiction thrives on individuals’ vulnerabilities, such as loss of health, loss of a loved one, or loss of a job, recovery from addiction often requires relying on supportive healthcare and social networks. The COVID-19 crisis and the importance of physical distancing create barriers against these sources of support.
Social networks are particularly important during recovery from addiction
This means that during this unprecedented period of physical distancing, others ways of connecting and creating community need to be identified to garner and give support. Providers around the world are exploring new options for telemedicine, which provides one pathway of connection. Others are making self-help tools freely available. Some mutual help organizations are exploring ways to move their experience online. Notably, evidence from a recent Cochrane review suggests that peer-led Alcoholics Anonymous/twelve-step and professionally-delivered treatments might provide a useful pathway to abstinence.
There are many pathways to recovery maintenance, and these all represent important possibilities.
What are some specific recommendations for maintaining recovery during a time of physical distancing?
First, it remains important to have a plan for recovery, and to diligently work the plan. Such a plan should reasonably anticipate what might happen, including experiencing complicated emotions. Emotions pass and a solid plan should help to move through challenging emotions.
Second, hone and rely on escape and avoidance skills by identifying alternative activities that respect physical distancing, but conflict with addictive behavior. Such activities might include practicing mindfulness and relaxation, getting exercise, learning new skills, and communicating your goals and activities with loved ones and people who support you.
Third, activate supportive social networks. This might involve greater use of reliable social media sources for staying connected with apps such as FaceTime, Duo, and Skype, or just using the phone. It is essential to clearly understand needs and identify people who can help with those.
Fourth, identify paths for telemedicine with a care provider — or support from a mutual help sponsor. Many therapists and sponsors are offering remote sessions for the duration of this crisis. Importantly, taking home medications to manage addiction needs to be carefully considered. People at a safe place on the recovery path are the best candidates for taking home medications; those in a riskier place should continue to receive their medication with supervision or social monitoring.
Crises test resilience
Resilience is the capacity to withstand and manage challenges. Proactive measures to protect health will build resilience, and help people avoid relapsing into addiction-related behaviors.
If a relapse happens, it is important to keep in mind that long-term recovery remains within reach. Relapse is a common feature of recovery, and it does not prevent someone from entering recovery again and achieving sobriety.
The use of self-help tools, reaching out for help from professionals, a social network, or mutual help groups — from a distance — are all important steps to take to overcome addiction, reduce substance use, proceed on the path of recovery or to maintain sobriety.