Covid-19 is unprecedented and almost the whole world currently has some form of shelter in place. With the stay-at-home, social distancing requirements, and people not allowed congregating in one place, there is tremendous strain to those with mental health issues and those seeking recovery from alcohol or drug addiction.
According to an NPR report, addiction is considered a “disease of isolation”, says Dr. Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
Apart from the fact that people in recovery need their community’s support to stay strong and continue in successful recovery towards healthier lives, there are other challenges specific to this group that we should be paying attention to:
Covid 19 and immunity: Weakened Immunity for people in recovery
People in recovery also have an added risk in the fact that they have a weakened immunity due to very high rates of nicotine addiction and smoking, and high rates of chronic lung disease, says Dr. Peter Friedmann, president of the Massachusetts Society of Addiction Medicine. “This put these folks at a higher risk for respiratory complications of this virus”, hence much-needed care. The CDC has provided the guidelines for care . The addicted and those recovering have a compromised immunity where covid 19 and immunity have a high risk relationship. This guidelines should be followed more rigorously.
Anxiety and stress
The added stress and anxiety from the shelter in place, including the added financial uncertainty is a great concern for the recovery process.
According to the CDC, the fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children and how we respond to the Pandemic depends mostly on our background, what makes us different from other people and also where and who we live with, our community.
Among the people who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis are those who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use.
Recovery meetings: lifeline during the pandemic
According to Kenny Pomerance, who co-founded the online recovery community “In the Rooms” reminds us that the recovery meetings are a lifeline during the pandemic. Most of the people, especially those who are early on in the recovery may be at risk of relapse when they are required to miss meetings due to the fear of Coronavirus.
One of the leading global support program is the 12 Step and other similar recovery programs found at Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
These meetings include people congregating in one place, holdings handsand being very close. All the things that are prohibited with the Covid-19 social distancing. Hence, the COVID-19, has made this very difficult and nearly impossible in most areas.
How to Cope with Shelter in Pace
Most AA groups globally have set in alternative plans due to the lack of in-person meetings. For those already with a group, most groups have developed the groups contact lists and maybe able to meet online or by the phone. But if you are newer in recovery and not affiliated with a group, AA has online meetings where members can provide and receive information. This is both locally and international.
Smart Recovery, is another strong resource for those in recovery. This site hosts over 2000 meetings in the USA alone and they are also available globally. If you would be interested in one in your area, you can search by downloading a list provided on the SMART website.
In Patient facilities
Almost everywhere globally, the treatment centers are considered essential and most treatment centers remain open. The Intake for the new patients is still going on in most but rigorous testing, hygiene and modified requirement as issued by local authorities are in place.
In the USA for example, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) is quickly addressing and creating evolving policies about how patients receive services and medicine. For detailed information on the evolving changes and resources, check here.
In most other regions that I’m aware of, like PCC recovery center in Kenya, most facilities have kept their doors open and the national drug and addiction bodies are keeping up with updates and guidance on the process and guidance for coping with covid-19 while still providing services.
If you or a loved one require clinical intervention, Coved-19 should not interfere with your intake. However, check with the facilities to make sure that they are up to date with the quickly changing policies to protect their clients.
Even though the Coved-19 poses a lot of challenges and unprecedented areas, while we wait for the world to contain the spread, there are still many resources for support and information for people struggling with addiction.
Recovery that does not require clinical intervention where free and continuing support is needed, online meetings and services are recommended. See below for some resources
SMART Recovery, an evidence-based (versus spirituality-based)
Recovery Dharma: mindfulness-oriented recovery support organization
AA: Adult children of alcoholics
In the Room: Database with comprehensive calendar of online recovery support meetings and events, and support apps.
AA: Alcoholic Anonymous