Addiction and Recovery in the Age of COVID-19

While the pandemic of COVID-19 is occurring, issues with addiction, mental health, and other health issues continue. In writing this post, to be honest I have many more questions than answers as we are all living in an unprecedented time of uncertainty.

What is striking me is the immense risk that exists for those who have addiction as we are being encouraged and, in some cases, mandated to self-isolate and quarantine. Isolation and addiction go hand in hand and fuel one another. It is unlikely that someone with active addiction is going to improve their health and engage in recovery when they are feeling isolated. However, with a plethora of online meetings available right now, I wonder if this would be a more comfortable and, therefore, more likely option for people who are reaching their proverbial bottom during this time? There are pros and cons to online meetings, of course. One pro that I can identify is the barriers to entry are less than going in person. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with who have talked about driving up to a 12-Step or other community meeting and who have then sat there watching people go in, only to drive away again before entering themselves out of fear. In an online forum, people can access this from the safety of their home and perhaps better remain ‘anonymous’ and a fly on the wall, which is often preferred when you are new to recovery.

I do hope that people who are reaching that turning point of change will still be able to engage in recovery support because that window can close so quickly.

For those who are already in recovery, it is also a vulnerable time but also a time of opportunity. The vulnerability comes with potential for isolation, as well as increased stress, panic, and fear, as well as reduced options for self-care. Recovery already requires adaptation and creativity so I am hopeful that people will be able to use these tools for their support. I do see risk, though, as addiction is such a powerful brain issue and can interfere with thinking so easily that the COVID-19 issues may wreak havoc on otherwise rational thinking. I have heard a few reports already from clients of thoughts of hoarding substances out of fear of scarcity, and this is from people who are not even using substances anymore!

My biggest concern is for those who are struggling, are not quite ready to change, and are in the midst of this pandemic. For those people, we are powerless but not helpless. My hope is that if we can keep an active conversation happening in the media and promoting messages of connection, recovery, and health even during a time where that seems difficult or impossible that this may reach those who are feeling hopeless. I am nervous to see what information will start to be gathered about these questions. Where are rates of addiction as this pandemic continues? How many people have died by suicide? Domestic violence rates have reportedly increased and, I suspect, divorce rates and birth rates may increase as people are forced to face their existing relationships and circumstances for what they are.

If you are looking for support, I would recommend you look for some online local resources for recovery. You are not alone and there are people around to support you. One helpful option is the Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous which can link you to many resources. This is just one of many that are currently out there.

Clean hands. Clean heads. Clean hearts.

By Paige Abbott

Paige is a Registered Psychologist in Calgary, Alberta and has been providing addiction counselling for over 8 years. She is currently operating part of her practice online with phone and video support, but still seeing some clients while maintaining social distancing recommendations. She misses the face to face connection and looks forward to it returning.