Addiction is a chronic brain disease, according to the Surgeon General, but recovery is still possible. Yet a very small percentage of addicts seek treatment: Of the estimated 20.8 million Americans who met the criteria of a substance abuse disorder in 2015, only 10% received treatment. And in the wake of COVID-19, those numbers may drop even further.
As the virus continues to spread and change the ways in which society functions, the world’s most vulnerable populations are being left behind. Social isolation is particularly challenging for those in addiction recovery, from alcoholics to those in the trenches of prescription drug abuse. Isolation, especially when coupled with financial instability and a chronic health condition, can snowball into depression, a significant trigger for many of those living with a substance abuse disorder (SUD).
Yet recovery is still possible in these unprecedented times. If social isolation is negatively affecting your sobriety, reach out for help via phone or online channels. Identify your triggers and seek out alternative spaces where you can spend time. Finally, learn what you can about SUD and the ways in which your preferred substance affects your brain chemistry, mood, and more.
Top tips to Fight Addiction During COVID-19
Knowledge is power, as they say, and your addiction research may prove an integral tool in your fight against addiction, even as shelter-in-place orders remain in force.
Keeping Triggers at Bay
The repercussions of the global pandemic, from potential unemployment to reduced social interaction, represent a hotbed of relapse triggers for the recovering addict. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic also makes for a stressful time to begin your sober journey. Rest assured that if you’re worried about going to a rehab facility due to the coronavirus, you’re not alone.
And you have several options. Some addicts may be able to detox on your own rather than in a hospital setting, but it depends on your choice of primary drug. According to recovery experts, the safe withdrawal of drugs such as opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines “requires supervision and detoxing in a medical setting.” So, wear your mask and ensure that everything stays sanitized during the withdrawal process.
Once the initial detox from drugs or alcohol is complete, however, it’s up to the recovering addict to maintain his or her sobriety. But you don’t have to go at it alone. Keeping your addiction at bay is a perpetual task that, for many, requires community intervention.
Finding Support in Isolation
One of the reasons why so many addicts seem to have found success via recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery is the support factor. Newcomers to AA meetings are welcomed with lists of member phone numbers to call in times of crisis, and that fellowship mentality is a cornerstone of the organization.
Across the U.S., recovery meetings are held in churches, meeting halls, parks, and community centers, and they are free to attend. Of course, those types of gathering spaces are no longer viable under the threat of COVID-19. Thus, as social isolation is now the norm, recovery has had to adapt to the times.
For recovering addicts with access to a smartphone and reliable internet connection, online meetings are available throughout the day. While online meetings are convenient and helpful for some, addicts with fewer resources or who may be homeless find them inaccessible. What’s more, it’s much more difficult to cultivate a sense of community when you’re sitting at home, alone on your computer. Online meetings just can’t replicate the same environment as in-person recovery groups.
Cultivating Serenity and Peace
And studies show that your environment is crucial to your recovery success. Especially if you’re in early recovery, it’s important to surround yourself with people who have similar goals. Addicts are also encouraged to stay away from people and places that may be relapse triggers or otherwise compromise your sobriety.
If your home is one of those places and you now find yourself essentially confined there, perhaps it’s time to reimagine your space in a way that promotes recovery. Start by decluttering each room, taking extra care to ensure that all reminders of past use are purged from your home. Clutter has an overwhelming effect on most people and may lead to anxiety and racing thoughts. Coupled with addiction recovery, a cluttered space is ultimately detrimental to your mental health.
Once your space is clutter-free, it’s important to find constructive, healthy ways to pass the time. You could consider taking up a hobby or craft, such as painting or woodworking, or working out. Another option during post-COVID isolation is to further your education by taking online classes for credit or just conducting research on subjects and topics that interest you. Perhaps addiction is one of those topics.
Motivation via Substance Abuse Education
Make no mistake: Addiction is indeed a brain disorder. Thus, you’ll need to use your brain in order to cultivate long-lasting addiction recovery.
Start by researching your preferred vices, whether they include hard liquor, stimulants, or prescription opioids. You might look up the ways in which prolonged alcohol use affects your liver. Or, you can research the fascinating history of the opioid epidemic, including the aggressive marketing of Oxycontin to patients and healthcare providers beginning in 1995.
It’s important to note that, in the course of your substance abuse research, you’re likely to find information and personal stories that hit a little too close to home. It may be an uncomfortable experience, but it can motivate you to stay sober and safe during these stressful times.
By learning more about addiction and the ways in which mind-altering substances affect the brain, addicts can put themselves at an advantage in terms of recovery. For instance, those who understand the myriad dangers of opioid pain medications may be more able to break free from their addiction than those with little knowledge of opioids. Further, substance abuse research provides a healthy way to spend time and reduce stress while you’re stuck at home, and you can share what you find with those in your recovery community.