If you or a loved one is one of the 2.8 million Americans addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may be more stressed than most people during the COVID-19 pandemic, wondering how to maintain contacts that will help you work toward sobriety. But as with most everything, the treatment community has adapted, and you’ll find plenty of resources online.
First, be aware that people addicted to some substances may be at greater risk; people who smoke marijuana or use opioids or methamphetamine should be particularly concerned about pulmonary and respiratory health, a government source says.
Those with alcohol addiction might be in danger if alcohol becomes unavailable in some places, because withdrawal too quickly could have serious consequences.
People who are homeless or incarcerated because of addictions are more in danger of becoming infected, of course, as well.
But for most people fighting addictions from home, social distancing is possible, but usual connections such as Alcoholics Anonymous and regular therapy might be changing along with other routines.
Just as business meetings on Zoom, and church services on social media, have become the new norm, though, recovery sources have adapted and are flourishing.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous
AA, a tried-and-true treatment resource founded in 1935, says many meetings are moving online during the pandemic. Other AA resources, depending on the chapter, may include email, social media and good old-fashioned telephone calls to stay in touch and accountable. Check AA’s website, aa.org, and its page “AA Near You” for pointers.
Finding a therapist online
While some therapists continue to see clients in person while maintaining social distancing, digital sessions also have become more widely available.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine says it’s particularly important for therapists to stay in touch with patients, being aware they may be under more stress than usual during the pandemic, and that stress can increase the likelihood of drinking too much or resuming drinking.
Telehealth–virtual visits–can help therapists stay in touch and keep patients on track during the health crisis.
Government HIPAA privacy rules have been relaxed to allow sessions on FaceTime, Facebook Messenger chat, Google Hangouts and Skype, according to ASAM.
Continued inpatient or outpatient
For some, the continued risks of addiction during the pandemic may outweigh worries about exposure, and in-person treatment, whether inpatient or outpatient, may be the best option. This decision should be made after consulting your doctor and therapist.
Look for a treatment center that will test for COVID-19 before patients enter the facility, as well as testing and screening staff members and visitors.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine also strongly suggests social distancing measures within the treatment center that correspond with those elsewhere during the pandemic: separation of 6 feet between people, wearing masks and frequent hand-washing and sanitizing.
Many outpatient treatment services are open as well, with patients being tested for the virus, staff and patients wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
Never a better time
The pandemic and its resulting stress and social isolation have created an upswing in alcohol and drug addiction, according to mental health professionals. It’s not surprising. It’s also never been more urgent to take steps toward sobriety; alcohol and drugs take their toll on the body and can be a deadly combination if COVID-19 attacks the body.
Fortunately, patients looking to get sober can choose from a variety of health care options. In March 2020, Medicare changed its rules to include digital help for addiction treatment, so those looking for online care during self-quarantine can talk to professionals from home.
While many self-help groups such as AA have discontinued in-person meetings, they are still active in the online world.
A starting point
If you’re just getting started on the road to recovery, SAMHSA–the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration–has a wealth of online links, as well as a national helpline, 1-800-662-HELP.