All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alina initially feared she’d contracted COVID-19.
It took a few days to get the test results, which were negative. She had a bad case of flu — the first time she’d been seriously sick in years.
But the new coronavirus and California’s resulting shelter-in-place order gives her and others recovering from alcohol use disorders another problem — which is more complicated for Alina because she lives with someone with the same condition.
“This is a very trying time for everyone, but addicts are particularly at risk,” Alina told Healthline. “We learn in recovery to reach out and gain strength and support from other addicts. Without in-person meetings, this becomes very difficult. I’ve been fantasizing about getting drunk to escape the reality we are facing. Luckily, I have a strong network of friends from rehab and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) that I can lean on.”
Those with substance use disorder frequently deal with isolation, which can contribute to addiction. Add general anxiety surrounding a virus and addiction avoidance becomes even more difficult.
Especially while watching someone teeter on the edge in one’s own home.
“(My boyfriend) has been really worried about COVID-19, and has been stir-crazy from sitting at home,” said Alina, a resident of Oakland, California. “He’s very worried about me. I’ve had flu-like symptoms for the past few days, but it’s been pretty mild. It still majorly freaks him out.”
“On Sunday, I slept until noon and, when I woke up, (he) was obliterated,” said Alina, who will have 2 years of sobriety in May. “It’s not the first time he’s relapsed, but this was probably the most drunk and destructive he’s been. Needless to say, this added to my own stress.”
Group meetings through organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are the first line of defense for those recovering from substance use disorders.
So are meetings with a sponsor and other sober activities.
Online meetings, forums, and talks were widely available before COVID-19 struck.
They’ve increased since as people try to stay home and stay sober.
But having that healthy physical routine of a gathering is vital for those in recovery.
At those meetings, people show up early to make coffee, set up chairs, or socialize. People stay late to chat.
Some schedule meals and coffee together around the meetings. Having something to fill that time can be crucial.
“As recovering alcohol abusers, we are always told to keep busy. Nothing leads to relapse quicker than boredom,” Mike Jacobsen, a blogger in self-isolation in Manchester, England, who does substance abuse outreach, told Healthline. “And being stuck in the house all day is boring.
“I know a guy who is working down in London who has quit his job and moved back home, just in case he does have to self-isolate,” said Jacobsen, who wrote about staying sober in isolation. “He didn’t want to be in a strange city, cooped up in a house, out of fear it would lead to a relapse.”
People in recovery are going to greater-than-normal lengths to avoid relapse-inducing isolation, said Bob Forrest, the co-founder of Alo House Recovery Centers and known from TV’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.”
“I’m dealing with people discharging from our rehab that are scared. They want to stay another month,” said Forrest, an addict who went to rehab more than 20 times before remaining sober the past two decades. “They don’t want to stay alone. The fear is multiplied because you’re going out into a world that’s closed.”
Forrest, who lives in Southern California and fronts rock band Thelonious Monster, said the current crisis can be an opportunity.
“You can text and Skype and have more meaningful conversations now,” Forrest told Healthline. “You can talk to people. Maybe, because we have so much time on our hands, we can talk about some meaningful stuff, instead of the Lakers and the Clippers.”
“People need to sit down in a chair and quietly think, ‘What do I believe?’ Get to the root cause (of addiction) and give yourself a break,” Forrest said. “Try to come up with some answers for yourself. What’s the point of being sober? It’s about purpose and usefulness and being able to sit with all this. Why don’t you use the time to reconnect with the people who mean something to you?”
Fear of the unknown is a powerful problem for those used to turning to substances as a coping mechanism, said Lori Coffey, LSW, LCADC, the national director of operations for Footprints to Recovery treatment centers.
“There is no finite amount of time that we are to endure this new way of life,” Coffey told Healthline. “Living with the fear that we may lose someone we love also causes a sense of helplessness. Individuals suffering from substance use disorder often do so because of a lack of healthy coping mechanisms. Utilizing outside support, even electronically, is essential.”
The COVID-19 outbreak also has other implications for people recovering from substance use.
“In addition to increased triggers, there are also a limited number of treatment providers that are still accepting new patients,” said Coffey. “If an individual wants help, where can they go? The hospitals are overloaded and treatment availability is limited.”
Many in the field said treatment centers and support groups will likely see an uptick in people needing help.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a web page devoted to online options, including Zoom and Google Hangouts.
Narcotics Anonymous provides similar information on its website.
Joi Honer, the national alumni director for Pinnacle Treatment Centers, offered suggestions on social distancing for those with substance use disorder in a blog on the centers’ website.
“Talking to a person, hearing a voice, offers more of a connection than sending a text or Facebook message,” Honer told Healthline. “Voices can be soothing at a time like this. Consider FaceTime, Zoom, or any other kind of video chat interface that allows us to see each other in conversation, not just hear. It creates a higher level of contact.”
It’s also a great time to start a project or a new hobby.
“Movement is a great tool in recovery,” said Coffey. “No better way to get out of your head and into something with your hands. It also adds value to your day, which will reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. One amazing project we completed at our treatment center was a garden. It became a construction project. The beauty of gardening is that it needs constant love and attention to flourish. It also gives a great sense of accomplishment with each harvest.”
Forrest said a crisis shutting people into their homes in 2020 offers opportunities.
“There’s a 21st century way now of having a relationship, instead of having a relationship with traffic,” he said. “You have to have interactions with people you have a kinship with. For all we say about social media, it can bring people together. Find your tribe.”
The Healthline News team is committed to delivering content that adheres to the highest editorial standards for accuracy, sourcing, and objective analysis. Every news article is thoroughly fact-checked by members of our Integrity Network. Furthermore, we have a zero-tolerance policy regarding any level of plagiarism or malicious intent from our writers and contributors.
All Healthline News articles adhere to the following standards:
- All referenced studies and research papers must be from reputable and relevant peer-reviewed journals or academic associations.
- All studies, quotes, and statistics used in a news article must link to or reference the original source. The article must also clearly indicate why any statistics presented are relevant.
- All content related to new treatments, drugs, procedures, and so on must clearly describe availability, pricing, side effects, treatment target (e.g., HER2+), known interactions, and off-label use, if appropriate.
- All news articles must include original commentary from at least two qualified sources with appropriate credentials and links to relevant associations or published works.
- Any potential conflicts of interest related to a study or source must be clearly indicated to the reader.
- All news articles must include appropriate background information and context for the specific condition or topic.