The coronavirus pandemic has taken millions of lives in the United States alone. However, even those who have not been infected by Covid-19 directly have experienced some of the devastating effects of the virus. Many people have lost their jobs and struggle to pay rent. Public health measures designed to limit the rate of infection have affected how people live, work, and interact.
Further, the invisible nature of the threat has contributed to feelings of paranoia and mistrust. Social isolation and loneliness are consequences of helpful public health policies and paranoia. Since there is no way of predicting how the pandemic will develop or when a vaccine will emerge, many people find it difficult to imagine a future for themselves beyond the immediate next few weeks.
In many ways, this predicament, characterized by social isolation, financial uncertainty, and living in a perpetual present, is a good description of how people addicted to drugs and alcohol live every day of their lives — even before the advent of Covid-19. The pandemic has especially affected the lives of already-vulnerable individuals, including addicts and alcoholics. Addiction is often referred to as a disease of loneliness, but some social scientists call it a “disease of despair.”
As societal institutions shut down and social isolation increasingly becomes the norm, both loneliness and despair are on the rise. Data from ambulance teams, hospitals, and police show that drug overdoses have surged by at least 29% during the coronavirus pandemic. Suicides linked to substance abuse are also on the rise. Some argue that these “deaths of despair” may kill as many as 75,000 people during the course of the pandemic. That means that drug and alcohol addiction are significant threats even compared to the virus itself.
Even individuals who are actively engaged in the addiction recovery process may struggle to stay sober during the pandemic. The social isolation, air of paranoia, financial distress, and sense of having no future that many people report suffering from can trigger feelings reminiscent of the days of active addiction. In addition, many social resources have shut down, making it more difficult for people in early recovery to get the help they need.
It is important to remember, however, that people have always managed to get and stay sober even during the most challenging periods, ranging from historical situations like World War II to personal traumas like the death of a loved one. Covid-19 is no different. While the nature of a person’s recovery program may be somewhat different during the pandemic, people continue to get sober even during this tumultuous era.
While most in-person support groups have closed, including 12-step meetings, many support groups are continuing to meet online. While it may no longer be possible to shake someone’s hand or drink coffee side by side with other individuals in recovery at a 12-step meeting, the meetings thrive nonetheless in the online world. In fact, online 12-step meetings have a number of advantages.
People can easily attend many meetings a day without even needing to get up or drive anywhere. It is also possible to attend meetings in other cities, states, and even countries. This makes it easy to attend meetings at any time of day and adds a whole new meaning to the saying, “It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.” During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has never been easier to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Research has repeatedly shown that the most important factor determining a person’s success in addiction treatment is their level of perceived social support. While the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in social distancing policies, it still remains essential to hold onto important relationships.
Doing so is broadly beneficial to mental health, and it is absolutely essential for people recovering from substance use disorders. Keeping in touch with friends and family makes it less likely that a person will engage in dangerous behaviors or contemplate a relapse. More importantly, connecting to the sober community helps people continue to develop their coping tools in recovery.
Individuals in recovery who are socially distancing should continue to call and text their sponsors, sober friends, and reach out to those who are struggling in the initial days of early sobriety. It is important for people in recovery to recognize that they are not alone.
While many resource centers have closed, structured sober living homes remain viable recovery options during the coronavirus pandemic. Addiction treatment is an essential service, so recovery programs remain active. Furthermore, structured sober living homes are in many ways the safest places to be during the pandemic. These clean facilities are inherently designed to offer residents a degree of protection from the triggers and travails of the outside world. By enrolling in a sober living home, residents become part of a small protected community of individuals who can weather the proverbial storm of Covid-19 together.
As isolation, unease, and panic set in during Covid-19, people who lack a sober social support system are especially vulnerable to relapse. A structured sober living home puts an individual in the midst of a community of other like-minded individuals with similar histories and strong commitments to sobriety.
Structured sober living homes offer more than just a place to live with others. In a safe and trigger-free environment, residents of sober living homes work to examine the underlying nature of their addictions, learn valuable life skills, and develop coping strategies for managing cravings. The end goal of a structured sober living house residency is not just physical abstinence from drugs and alcohol, but a new way of living that is happy, joyous, and free. While the world is temporarily on “pause,” there is no better time to work on building a new life in sobriety.