Maintaining recovery despite a pandemic
By Joseph Kertis
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone differently. Some have lost loved ones and jobs, suffering severe losses during a time that will undoubtedly leave a lasting mark. For others, perhaps it's just been inconvenient. Having kids home 24/7, working from home, and dealing with the inconveniences of social distancing and non-essential business closures have left many frustrated. But for those who struggle with Substance Use Disorder, or SUD, this pandemic has been especially challenging.
Many people have relapsed, and the early numbers show spikes in figures, which indicate a worsening of America's drug epidemic since COVID-19 arrived. Examples of this include several communities reporting sharp increases in overdose deaths. In the span of a few weeks, we've lost ground that took years to win, with no solution in sight.
Without more time for data collection and research, we won't know the exact impact that COVID-19 is having on those in recovery, or who may have relapsed. Stress has been a massive factor for everyone during these times, and people's reactions to stress can share commonalities.
One of these is an increase in drug and alcohol use, making stress a primary trigger for relapse. Alcohol sales have reportedly increased by 55% in late March when compared to the same period last year. The weight and boredom of isolation, financial hardship, and uncertainty about the future may be what's driving these numbers. Not everyone in recovery is doomed to this same fate.
Some communities are reporting that this pandemic is triggering relapse among people with a history of SUD. That said, there are plenty of people who are maintaining their recovery despite the adversity. But what are they doing that's working? Most support group meetings are banned or not being held. Again, this is so new that we don't have all the data yet. But we can certainly be proactive about planning ways to stay healthy and sober during these challenging times.
Staying busy is perhaps the most effective way to combat relapse triggers. It quite literally boosts one's spirits, while also accomplishing a valuable end-product. While binging on endless seasons of television sounds excellent, it's only beneficial when it serves as a reward or break from one's day to day life. When it becomes the day to day life, it can stop being pleasurable and lead to negative emotional and physiological processes that prompt the desire to self-medicate.
Being productive not only combats this but causes physiological and mood improvements. So, do those projects around the house you've been putting off. Work out at home. Call your family or an old friend you haven't spoken with in too long. Take advantage of this situation.
Maybe you're still working but have the kids home all day and have had to figure out how to deal with it all. If you're in recovery, you've accomplished something significant, so you must have successful actions that have contributed to your improvements. Keep doing every single one of them that's possible. If meetings were a big part of it, call up some of your peers from the group and host an impromptu Zoom meeting.
If nutrition was a big part of your success, keep doing that even though it may be trickier. Don't throw in the towel just because you can't do everything you used to be able to. The quickest way to relapse during a stressful time is to use it as an excuse or justification for why it's okay "under these circumstances." Might people understand more? Sure. But that won't do anything to help you when you're back in treatment.
Making life harder is the last thing that anyone needs right now. Besides, as the stay at home orders are lifted, and life begins to resemble the norm, we're going to have plenty of work to do. The magnitude of COVID-19's impact on America's drug epidemic will be evident, and many people are going to need help.
About Joseph Kertis
Joseph Kertis is an experienced healthcare professional turned journalist. His experience in the field of substance abuse and addiction recovery provides a unique insight into one of our Nation's most challenging epidemics. He utilizes this knowledge in his writing to give an expert viewpoint that spreads awareness through education. He is a featured author of the healthcare websites Addicted.org & ECDOL.
Greetings. How's the pandemic treating you kind folks?