The impacts of COVID-19 are numerous; there is no question. COVID-19 has severely restricted access to resources and support for individuals in addiction recovery. Additionally, reasonable access to essential features of a structured recovery plan remains limited. Many are struggling with quarantine protocols and lack of connection to their programs. While there are other means of contact, through virtual meetings and phone calls, the isolation is prompting barriers to engage actively in their programs.
The disease of addiction and the coronavirus are similar in that they are not in alignment with life events. They both also have significant health complications that remain high without professional intervention or support.
COVID-19 is happening. It is a reality that needs constant addressing and personal adjusting, like the disease of addiction. Both, if not appropriately treated, may result in fatality. Unfortunately, some measures to ensure safety from COVID-19 have the opposite effect for those in active addiction and early sobriety. Feelings of fear and anxiety may also hold some people back from seeking treatment or continuing treatment.
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The Problem with COVID-19 and Isolation
The CDC is recommending social distancing and guidelines to avoid close contact with others. As a result, isolation and social avoidance can be a trigger for addicts depending on the support of their recovery networks. The lack of connection may cause uncomfortable feelings very similar to an addict’s isolation in active addiction.
All of this can exacerbate maladaptive and irrational thoughts. As well as certain old behaviors that may result in relapse or return to active use. This isolation may also result in higher instances of overdose. Having another person in the vicinity that may be able to administer Narcan or call for emergency services is unlikely to happen in quarantine or isolation increases the risk. Emergency departments are also working around the clock with COVID-19 cases. As a result, access to emergency care for a drug overdose becomes increasingly more complex, coupled with the high risk of potential infection.
COVID-19 Effects on Mental Health
The mental health impacts of COVID-19, including stress, helplessness, fear, and anxiety and depression, are often high-risk triggers for those in sobriety. They increase in risk when an addict lacks the skills or support around them to cope. The conflicting media reports, fear of contracting the disease, or infecting people we love- are all common concerns for everyone.
All of this may increase unhealthy coping skills. As a result, an addict may increase their drug or alcohol use or experience ill mental health. When mental health symptoms go untreated, substance abuse is likely to worsen.
How It Affects Physical Health
While COVID-19 is a higher risk for vulnerable populations with several pre-existing conditions, the physical impact of addiction on the body may place some at a higher risk of contracting the disease. After extended use, many substances compromise immune functioning and vital organs for disease prevention. Thus, making it harder to fight off infection or illness.
Addiction and long-term substance abuse/misuse can destroy internal organs in addition to a weaker immune system. Many who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction have not adequately followed up with their health. Not to mention, many have underlying conditions they are unaware of due to their drug or alcohol use.
What Happens to Addiction Treatment Now
Addiction treatment is changing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a substantial shift towards telehealth services instead of the typical in-person services to minimize risk, but this also may influence feelings of isolation by not physically being in the presence of others or a helping professional.
When considering a new admission to treatment, admissions processes are changing to ensure the decreased risk of exposure for current patients. Some are avoiding reaching out for treatment altogether due to fear.
Access to external support systems that are crucial for maintaining sobriety long term post-treatment is minimally available, prompting significant reliance on the drug rehab and making critical aspects of a recovery program more intricate.
Is Telehealth Right for Me?
Generally, Telehealth is an alternative to traditional medical care. For many, it can be impersonal and make connecting with another person difficult. Overall the responses to this unique method of drug and alcohol addiction treatment vary. Some say it is a better and more convenient way to receive care. While others report, it does not have the same appeal and motivation as in-person options. However, lack of accountability and monitoring can make it difficult to assess whether the treatment is effective for many who require inpatient drug rehab.
Virtual access to 12-step meetings and support groups is also expanding as a result of COVID-19. At least while access to in-person meetings has ceased due to distancing guidelines.
Virtual access to 12-step meetings and support groups is also expanding due to COVID-19 and distancing guidelines. Telehealth services are available for less intensive levels of care. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is also actively maintaining online resources and guidance to ensure safety information surrounding COVID-19 becomes available.
What’s Next for Addiction and Recovery
While much of the world seems to be on pause, damage from drug and alcohol addiction continues to plague the United States. The necessity of quality drug and alcohol rehab centers continues to increase. Despite the impact of COVID-19, there are still support systems available and opportunities to seek addiction care.
Addiction treatment centers will continue to comply with CDC guidelines for safety, and work to overcome potential barriers for addicts in dire need of life-saving therapy. But the concern of possible transmission or exposure remains. Thus, active screenings for symptoms, education, testing, appropriate sanitization, and social distancing procedures continue to develop and evolve to reduce the risk of the virus for patients and medical staff.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an increase in substance abuse, a relapse to active addiction, or continuing addictive behaviors, do not wait to seek help. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our team is committed to assisting you and your family.