- Social distancing and self-quarantine can pose many difficulties for a person suffering from substance abuse.
- There are a lot of resources that the recovery community can still offer those trying to fight addiction, like virtual alcohol-support meetings.
- Other tips from experts include sticking to a schedule each day, avoiding too much news, and downloading a meditation app.
- If you know someone who is fighting addiction, take it upon yourself to ask them how you can help. It might be as simple as a phone call around 5 pm each day.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is experiencing new challenges and struggles. This is equally true if you, or someone you know, is an alcoholic.
"The most significant feature of addiction is the profound sense of isolation that is associated with it," says Evan Haines, Co-Founder of Alo House Recovery Centers and a recovering alcoholic in Malibu, CA. "That makes social distancing an especially difficult and risky proposition for those who suffer from substance use."
Insider spoke with experts and recovering alcoholics for advice on how people trying to fight addiction can still get help in this new world of face masks, social isolation, and lockdowns.
Virtual assistance during the coronavirus pandemic
Since alcohol-support meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous, are canceled, the recovery community has gone digital. Many local AA offices have supplied information on their websites about how to turn an in-person meeting into a digital one.
This week, the General Service of Alcoholics Anonymous (GSO) US/Canada announced that some groups are holding online meetings through Zoom, Google Hangouts, or conference call. AA groups also have contact lists to keep in touch by phone, email, or social media.
But can virtual meetings help as much as in-person gatherings? For Kathryn Pirozzoli, a life coach and recovering alcoholic, they certainly have.
"I attended three virtual A.A. meetings last week," said Pirozzoli. "Prior to that, with my busy life, I had been lucky to get to one meeting a week. Attending those virtual meetings made me feel the most connected to AA in over 10 years!"
She said that the Zoom meetings work much like in-person meetings. "Each member commented how grateful they were to have a time and a space to feel calm, connect with their purpose, helping others to stay sober, and to get away from the reality of quarantine for an hour.
More advice on how to help alcoholics
While virtual AA meetings can be a tremendous help, they only run for an hour or so each day. That leaves a lot of free time alone with your thoughts. Here are some more tips on how to spend the rest of the day.
"Wake up and stick to a schedule that is productive to avoid cravings to drink, don't watch too much news, and read some recovery books to help feel less alone," said Erica Lubetkin, LMHC, NCC of New York City-based Tru Whole Care.
Lubetkin also suggested spending time outdoors if possible, or finding ways to move your body every day at home. "There's a saying, 'move a muscle, change a thought' — that can be very helpful now."
Haines recommended reconnecting with people who you haven't talked to in a while. "Find out how they're doing, to catch up, and to take time to really feel that remarkable sense of shared experience that we are currently having."
Jess Limbird, program manager at Recover Alaska, an organization that combats alcohol misuse in the state, suggested patients ask their therapist to conduct sessions over the phone or video chat. "Chances are they're already offering this adjusted service right now," she said. "For moments of mindfulness, download a meditation app to your phone and give yourself some time to focus on something other than the news and the world around you."
For those with alcoholics in their life, Sarah Franklin, program director for Stepping Stone Center for Recovery, in Jacksonville, Florida, offered some simple yet powerful advice: "Ask how you can help. Maybe you'll learn that 5 pm is the time when cravings set in each day because it's the time that your loved one typically got off work and would stop by the liquor store. Get creative and offer to be a distraction at 5 pm."
Those with older loved ones who struggle with alcohol may need to give them extra attention. According to a study published in 2017 in JAMA Psychiatry, excessive alcohol use has increased in recent years among adults 50 and older. The fact that these people are also part of the highest risk groups for complications from the coronavirus means social isolation is especially important for them. But it may also mean that "seniors' feeling of isolation could grow," according to Business Insider.
One bright spot: Medicare just expanded to include mental telehealth — a timely resource for seniors dealing with alcoholism in isolation.
"Human beings are naturally empathetic, social creatures," Haines said. "We crave love and belonging; we want to be there for each other. And this crisis is providing us many, many opportunities to do so."
For those looking for virtual support here are some resources:
- A worldwide list of online A.A. meetings, in a variety of formats, including email, chat, audio/video, discussion forums, and telephone.
- A list of electronic meetings from Al-Anon.
- Free virtual support meetings, resources and scholarships offered by Tempest, a membership site for people struggling with alcohol.
- Free virtual support meetings hosted by American Addiction Centers.
- Live peer coaching 24/7 and resources from the Sober Grid app.
- Free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders – 1-800-662-HELP (4357) from SAMHSA.
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