The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the lives of Americans into complete disarray — and for those confronting addictions, life has become an even greater daily struggle. In-person support groups that were once readily accessible are no longer an option. Our health expert, Karen Owoc, provides us with some insight into this whole new challenge.

Triggers that Affect Relapse

Whether you’re recovering from an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or food, COVID-19 has created high-risk situations that can trigger relapses. Rather than having to deal with one high-risk situation at a time during recovery, the pandemic has caused many addicts to have to deal with multiple triggers all at once, such as:

  • Job loss
  • Financial hardship
  • Housing issues (ability to pay rent/mortgage)
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Fear
  • Loneliness
  • Boredom, idle time

During the shelter-in-place order, the fear of running out of drugs, alcohol, or food leads to hoarding the very items they’re trying to quit. Being isolated makes the situation even more volatile.

In-Person Support Groups and The Danger of Isolation

For members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction programs (which patterned their programs after the AA model), in-person meetings are a vital element of these programs — they’re the life raft. So it is a cruel irony to the recovery community to have that life raft taken away.

This is a time of crisis, but particularly for addicts, and it elevates the word 
“crisis” to another level. This is when addicts need these meetings the most for comfort, help, and a remedy. In-person meetings are not just a means to find social connections, they provide accountability. Members have to be accountable to their sponsor or other members in the group regardimg their whereabouts, new habits, and other behaviors (such as not calling), etc.

In AA, it’s recommended that members attend a meeting EVERY DAY for 90 days. Recovered addicts may attend a meeting multiple times a week leading to longer stretches of abstinence. An integral part of recovery for people going through recovery is to ‘participate in their lives’ — i.e., go out to restaurants, the movies, church, concerts, etc. But now, those venues are closed.

Loneliness is Torture for an Addict

Addictive behaviors (self-destructive behaviors) often occur when alone or when feeling alone in their thoughts. They think about how much they drink/eat/abuse drugs, and how much they are hurting themselves and other people.

For people new to recovery, the isolation can extremely difficult. It’s one thing to be socially isolated, but being isolated while you’re trying to break an addiction may feel insurmountable.

Seek out “change partners”. That is, support partners who are also trying to change an unhealthy behavior(s). Reach out to someone else who is also in recovery — especially when you’re having a bad day.

Alternative Meetings

For recovering addicts and alcoholics who need regular social connection, the isolation of sheltering in place can lead to relapse. Fellowships like AA, have formed virtual support groups via Zoom or Google hangouts, but the online model isn’t a perfect substitute. A lot of the connection happens before and after the meeting.

On a positive note, online meetings make it possible to join meetings anywhere in the Bay Area. They also encourage keeping in close contact with each other by texting, social media, and by phone.

AA has always maintained anonymity, but being online makes some people uncomfortable with the possibility of someone’s personal information being leaked online. Zoom has had security and privacy issues with unwelcome strangers crashing meetings.

For those without a computer or computer access: AA offers conference calls or Skype (audio only) meetings.

AA Hotline: The AA 24-hour call line is available 24/7 to talk to someone to get help to stop drinking or get connected to support. There’s only one line, so they suggest calling back if no one answers.

Warning Signs of Relapse

Breaking any kind of addiction requires building new healthy habits (behaviors). But your behaviors can “drift”, that is, revert back to old behaviors over time. Behavioral drift is often times unconscious. Make a conscious effort to watch for warning signs:

  • Difficulty making healthy choices.
  • Difficulty thinking positive and managing feelings. (Your thoughts are very POWERFUL and affect your feelings and behaviors.)
  • Difficulty remembering to stick to a routine, plan ahead, and follow through
  • Fatigue.
  • Worrying about others instead of yourself.
  • Taking care of stressful events.
  • Feeling stressed or under time constraints.
  • Difficulty getting in physical activity or exercise.
  • Not getting enough sleep.

Where to Find an Online Meeting

The Santa Clara County Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous offers a list of more than 150 Zoom meetings throughout the week in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties: https://bayareane.ws/SCCFAA.

The East Bay Intergroup websitehttps://eastbayaa.org/online-meeting-directory, offers links directly to Alameda County meetings on Zoom at their regularly scheduled time.

Find Zoom meetings at the Hut: https://bayareane.ws/TheHut.

Information on Zoom meetings elsewhere in Contra Costa County are not yet available; check back at the the fellowship’s website,
http://contracostaaa.org.

Alcoholics Anonymous’s online intergroup: http://aa-intergroup.org/directory.php, lists meetings available online, as well as by telephone, email and chat.

Recovery Show podcast withSpencer T, the host of the podcast, offers resources on online meetings and how groups can set up on their own; http://therecoveryshow.com/2020/03/online-meetings/.

The Takeaway: Being socially isolated is only in the “physical” sense right now. There are resources available where you can get social support. In the meantime, get out of your own head. Assist your recovery by starting a gratitude journal and finding ways to be “of service” to others.

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