The pandemic has been challenging for many people around the world, with binge drinking and opioid overdoses reportedly on the increase, and it’s taken an especially strong toll on people who are trying to live in recovery from substance use disorder. Many of the coping skills people in recovery relied on prior to COVID-19 have become more difficult to utilize or completely unavailable. While vaccines have made it safer to resume some activities, some people still don’t feel safe returning to the status quo.
An At-Risk Population
An American Psychological Association article shared that people with substance use disorder might be inherently at greater risk for getting COVID and for developing severe symptoms, so it has been especially important for people in recovery to follow scientifically grounded COVID guidelines.
Isolation is one of the worst things for recovery. Everyone needs connection to other human beings in order to thrive, and often a lack of connection may have been what fueled substance issues in the first place. While the acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) is often used to indicate a person isn’t taking proper care of themselves and can be a sign that a person is experiencing emotional relapse, a person who doesn’t feel safe because of COVID may find it hard to avoid loneliness while also maintaining social distancing.
Despite reduced social interactions, many people in recovery found creative ways to prevent loneliness.
- Virtual recovery meetings – Zoom and other video conferencing options have made it possible to continue AA/NA and other meetings. Politico even speculated that these virtual meetings might linger after the pandemic, as they are especially beneficial for people who have social anxiety or would need a babysitter to attend in person.
- Chat rooms – It’s like the 90s all over again, with chat rooms offering people the opportunity to message each other.
- Phone calls – Most people are only a call or a text away from their sponsor.
- Outdoor options – Nature can be a powerful healer, and there’s no reason why a recovery activity cannot be taken outdoors if the weather permits.
Loss can be a powerful trigger for relapse, and many people have experienced losses during the pandemic.
- Job loss deteriorates the sense of identity and accomplishment that comes along with being employed.
- Income loss can cause great stress.
- Health loss can lead to relapse, especially for people who have the misfortune of experiencing long haul COVID.
- Loss of loved ones to COVID adds a layer of grief that makes normal pandemic stresses that much more difficult to bear. Grief counseling
and other forms of therapy can help people to process their loss, but healing will still take time.
Decreased Access to Treatment
According to the New York Times, some substance abuse treatment programs closed their doors or limited the services being provided, especially during the earliest stages of the pandemic, thereby making it harder to get treatment or the right level of treatment. The Times found that around 43 percent of treatment programs reduced their capacity at some point during the pandemic.
Shifting Supplies for Recovery During the Pandemic
People who have continued to use have had difficulty getting drugs from familiar sources, leading them to get drugs from unknown sources. This may be part of what is fueling increased overdoses during the pandemic. Opioid overdoses are up 18 percent nationwide since the pandemic started and more than 40 states report seeing an increase, according to the APA. Testing strips remain a way to determine if a substance contains fentanyl, a common cause of overdoses, though they won’t necessarily tell a person how much fentanyl is in a product they have purchased.
Decline in Medication-Assisted Treatment
For people who utilize medication-assisted treatment (MAT), the pandemic may have affected how those medications are distributed. Many dispensaries loosened restrictions, making it possible for people in recovery to obtain more doses of methadone, Suboxone, and other medications used to treat addiction. This was largely successful and met with minimal abuse. In places where restrictions were not loosened, people in recovery might have struggled more with getting their medications, particularly if they were reliant on public transit.
Recovery During the Pandemic: Safe Harbor Can Help
Regardless of the barriers, many people are still succeeding in their recovery journeys. Success is possible, and help is available. If you or your loved one are struggling in your recovery due to complications caused by the ongoing pandemic, Safe Harbor Recovery Center is here to help.