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As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to unfold, the world is locking down, forcing millions out of work and many into isolation. While social distancing isn’t easy for anyone, it is hitting one group particularity hard. People who are recovering from a substance use disorder are finding it difficult to maintain sobriety with their routine uprooted, and many of them are relapsing during COVID-19. Dayry Hulkow, M.S., a primary therapist at Arete Recovery, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility told Fox News, “Yes, we are already starting to see an increase in relapses.”
These relapses are thought to be brought on by the feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and boredom that many are struggling with. “Social support and active involvement in the program both play a huge role in recovery,” Hulkow said, “In the absence of these, ‘isolation’ and ‘emotional distress’ can be significant ‘triggers’ to relapse.” Studies have shown the connection between social isolation and addiction over the years, proving that isolation is associated with worse treatment outcomes. A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information stated, “In early recovery, this aloneness may be acute to the extent an alcoholic/addict is not connected to other sober peers and able to commiserate with him or her, appreciate each step taken in sobriety, or encourage him or her in the same direction of responsible living. Social isolation also increased the risk of committing violent crimes.”
Relapses are common through the alcohol and drug recovery process, so common that it is estimated that 40% to 60% of people in recovery have at least one relapse before reaching sobriety. Some estimate this number to be as high as 90%. During COVID-19, some people may be isolated at home alone while others are isolating with their family. Family members who live with a recovering drug addict or alcoholic should pay attention to the warning signs of relapse in their loved one, so they can act as a support system. Some signs include:
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Those who have or are close to relapsing may start relaxing on self-imposed rules and start expressing their cravings for drugs or alcohol. They may also romanticize past substance abuse or state how they are using in a “controlled” way. If you believe your loved one has relapsed, provide them with empathy and encourage them to take the right steps. Returning to treatment may be the best option. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers are still open during COVID-19, to provide essential treatment to those who need it.
If you believe your friend has relapsed and is withdrawing from you and other positive friends, reach out to remind them of your support. Hulkow said, “Supporters can contribute by creating a safe and healthy environment around the home; creating opportunities for open and honest communication, and actively listening.” Stand firm and hold them accountable, but also offer encouragement and optimism. There are still options for guidance and contact during social isolation.
“This is a significant challenge for individuals recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. It is important to find alternative ways to receive ongoing support during this time. AA/NA and other support groups have ‘virtual meetings’ available online. There are also other options to stay connected via social media as well as by telephone or email,” Hulkow told Fox. Virtual 12-step meetings are an easily accessible option to receive support. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and In The Rooms are just a few of the many platforms that are offering meetings via webcam or phone.
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If you are recovering from a substance abuse disorder and are having a difficult time maintaining sobriety, know that you are not alone. Hulkow recommends taking care of your body by getting proper sleep, exercise, and eating a healthy diet. Keep in touch with friends and family and do your best to stick to a schedule. “The person in recovery can benefit from maintaining a structured routine as ‘normal’ as possible,” Hulkow said. Hulkow also advises individuals to actively combat relapse: “Recovering individuals can utilize different ‘tools’ to cope during this time such as: staying virtually engaged in the program, reading recovery-oriented literature, practicing prayer and meditation, engaging in healthy hobbies when possible, journaling thoughts and feelings, completing arts and crafts projects, being creative and staying present.”
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