Rehabilitation programs are crucial to those who are on the path to recovery from an addiction. Among their more obvious benefits, their aim is to help addicts break their habit. They also provide a social group with a common bond, a tried and proven support system, and even a great transition into the world outside of substance abuse. With the COVID pandemic shutting down public gatherings, many are left without that support system and may even have a chance to relapse. This is how addiction services are combating substance abuse in a pandemic.
It is estimated that as many as 21 million Americans have at least one addiction. 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and various private groups such as Celebrate Recovery, have been the dominant force in addiction treatment in America for decades now. This is one of the first times that these programs have had to improvise and get creative to keep their attendees progressing in their 12 steps.
A concern is that these attendees “They are getting services, just not to the full extent… we have zoom meetings weekly.” Says Joby Soisson, the Ministry leader of Celebrate recovery. His job involves the oversight of the activities of Celebrate Recovery at the Transform Church in reading.
They are even taking measures to ensure the anonymity of the program stating “Nobody can overhear what is being heard in the room so you must put headphones in. and be in an empty room,” Says Soisson. Anonymity is crucial to these programs as it builds individual trust and prevents social damage to someone who is on a better path to get away from the harmful life of substance abuse.
This can also be a harmful time for recovering addicts as they likely have a very restricted income, and an increased time alone, which could result in a relapse. When Soisson was asked about a potential spike in abuse he responded with a very swift “definitely.”
Addiction is a disease of isolation. When an addict is alone and has nothing to do, they have a high risk of relapsing. In this time it is likely that we will see a large spike in overdose deaths.
The longer that COVID-19 goes on, the higher risk we will be at a spike due to that loneliness that may push many over the edge of recovery, especially for active users who will take the drugs alone, also increasing the spike due to lack of any potential supervision.
Those with addictions to nicotine are also at a high risk for COVID due to the damage that cigarettes and e-cigarettes cause to the lungs. This is problematic because the national Survey on Drug Use and Health states that adults diagnosed with mental health issues, or substance abuse problems only make up 25% of the population, while accounting for 40% of all cigarettes smoked in the United States.
There are also about 60,000 smokers out of the million that have gone through the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous according to researchers at Vanderbilt University. This means that despite being in the process of recovery from an addiction, they are also at a higher risk if infected with the coronavirus.
Here in Berks, the The Council on Chemical Abuse provides the community with leadership and assistance in preventing substance use, and promoting treatment and recovery from addiction. Like many other organizations, the COCA and the Rise Center, (Recovery, Information, Support, Education facility, has moved to virtual programming to continue serving Berks.
Taking to social media, Yvonne Stroman, Community Programs Specialist of the RISE Center offers videos on how to support recovery during the pandemic. In one video, he discusses the concept of recovery capital, and how to stay well while still practicing social distancing.
“Just because we are practicing social distancing, doesn’t mean we stop as individuals in long term recovery keeping from what we need to do for ourselves” Stroman says in one of her videos. “Recovery capital is relying on things we’ve always been doing. Can’t make it to a meeting, call a sponsor, call a support group, make sure you’re connected. Maybe have a gratitude journal or something that is positive and promotes healthy and happy habits.
Addiction may have a tendency to thrive during these trying times, but it doesn’t have to. We all know we should stay indoors and stay safe, but we also are not alone. If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction, call (888) 464-6922 to speak with an expert on recovery to get you started on the road to sobriety.
BCTV and Berks Weekly are working together to bring you the stories of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This media partnership is made possible in part by the support of Berks County Community Foundation.