Struggling With Addiction During COVID-19? You’re Not Alone

sobriety fob
Stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines may present additional challenges to those recovering from an addiction, experts say — but there are resources available for those who need help. Ted S. Warren / Associated Press
sobriety fob
Stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines may present additional challenges to those recovering from an addiction, experts say — but there are resources available for those who need help. Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Struggling With Addiction During COVID-19? You’re Not Alone

When people are recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction — what health experts call substance use disorder — it’s essential to have a community and accountability.

But those can be hard to come by during a time of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, when people can’t gather for regular Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Sadness, fear, anger, frustration and stress can lead to relapse. And isolation can make addictive behaviors worse.

That’s why people in recovery need help now more than ever, said Maggie Dix, a therapist and licensed social worker based in Libertyville who works with people with addictions. Dix said that during the coronavirus pandemic, she has been recommending virtual resources.

“People with a substance use disorder know they need in-person contact,” she said. “When the coronavirus situation started happening, therapists immediately started to figure out ways that they could bring their practices online and use telehealth.”

Dix spoke with WBEZ’s Mary Dixon about addiction and recovery during a pandemic. Here are some takeaways:

You can still practice social distancing while continuing recovery

Find a virtual meeting or use telehealth — a way to talk to a healthcare provider online. Groups like 12 Step, SMART Recovery and Recovery Dharma have moved all of their meetings to online platforms.

But this is nothing new for recovery communities in rural areas, Dix said.

“In large states like Alaska or Wyoming, where it would be really hard for people to come together in one location, they've had phone meetings since the early 2000s, and online meetings and chat meetings over the internet for decades,” she said. “The rest of the community just kind of followed their example and brought their services to a place where lots of people could gather without being in the same place.”

Substance use is going to skyrocket during this pandemic

During this time of uncertainty, some people may cope by using alcohol or drugs.

“You can have a mild substance use disorder, a moderate substance use disorder or a severe substance use disorder,” Dix said. “You don't have to have a big bad problem in order to get help.”

But stressful times like these can also cause some people to acknowledge they have a substance problem, and decide to seek help.

“When a person's use interferes with their important areas of functioning, like school work, relationships, that’s when they might realize that they want to change what they're doing with their substance use,” Dix said.

There are other ways to combat stress during the coronavirus pandemic

Whether people have a substance use disorder or not, talking to their loved ones or people they trust on a regular basis can help.

“It's really important to talk about how we feel, because we're all feeling the same things,” said Dix. “It's perfectly normal to be very afraid and very angry, and very frustrated and very sad. That's normal right now. You have to feel your feelings and need to talk about them.”

And there are lots of places to go for help

Whether you’re looking to cut back on your use of a substance or want to stop for a while, Dix said there are all kinds of services out there.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have meetings all over the world, and many have moved online.

  • The SAMHSA hotline is a national resource that can provide information and support to individuals and family members facing substance use disorder, 365 days a year.

  • Recovery Dharma uses Buddist practices in its recovery services, but people of any faith can participate.

  • Smart Recovery uses cognitive behavioral therapy in its science-based recovery services.

Araceli Gómez-Aldana is WBEZ’s morning news producer. Follow her @Araceli1010.