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Substance Abuse in the Age of Social Distancing

by Chase Young, M.A.


“It’s five o’clock somewhere!” It seems this phrase has never been truer than over the past few months. With the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, people are finding themselves stuck inside, overwhelmed, and desperately searching for ways to cope with novel and unexpected challenges. Time has begun to drift away, daily routines and structure have been dismantled, and making a gin and tonic at noon has never seemed so appealing.


During these strange times, we may be stuck in a house with others we dislike, we may miss those we are unable to visit, and many of us are experiencing overwhelming feelings of anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, and loneliness. Possibly the worst of all… It can get BORING. (I mean, learning how to play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the ukulele and painting the third portrait of our beloved pets can only occupy us for so long).


Unfortunately, substances do an excellent job at distracting from pain and stress, and with the lack of typical social accountability, consequences of hangovers, and long stretches of time spent in one’s home, a midday cocktail or smoke could turn the occasional recreational indulgence into a maladaptive spiral.


The dread and uncertainty of how this national crisis will pan out puts everyone at risk for developing new addictions, while also placing new challenges for those that have maintained sobriety or struggled with previous substance use.


So how do we assess and observe the potential for relapse or if a daily cocktail or urge to drink begins to impact our functioning during these odd times? Here are some tools to get you started.

Identify Triggers. Recognizing the people, places, and situations that lead to substance use is an important step in preventing relapse and decreasing your likelihood of using substances. Some common triggers include being around friends and family who use and abuse substances, engaging in tense and stressful relationships, and visiting places where previous substance use occurred.


Practice Balance and Patience. The ability to have complete control over substance use and its consequences is not easy to achieve, and that is OKAY! Often, when you shame yourself or beat yourself up for “slipping up,” you’re more likely to continue using. Nobody is perfect, so try to be flexible and forgiving if you turn to a substance at a time of high-stress, and make a plan for choosing a different coping skill next time. You are more likely to maintain positive changes if you treat yourself with kindness and recognize that it is difficult to change one’s habits.


Distract Yourself. Being stuck at home or being stressed from working during the pandemic can cause cravings to come and go, but luckily these urges can (and will) pass if we are able to effectively “ride out” the urge instead of giving in to it. Distracting oneself until the urge subsides is often a helpful strategy. Distraction can be as simple as taking a long, hot shower, or as complex as learning a new instrument. Other distractors could include physical activity, cooking a meal, putting together a puzzle, or any other hobbies and interactive activities that you might have an interest in.


Build Social Support. Managing substance use is not easy, but you never have to do it alone. Research shows that people with positive social supports fare better in recovery. This might be the most difficult things do due during a stay-in-order because face-to-face interactions are limited. However, don’t underestimate the power of using Zoom, Skype, or other video chats and phone calls to give you the social contact to help you feel supported. Making a point to regularly check in with loves ones as often as possible can help you stay accountable and remind you that you can count on others to support you when you’re struggling.


Of course, if you are unable to trust or rely on your social circle to help you manage cravings, you may benefit from seeking professional support or participating in a recovery program. There are tons of virtual resources designed specifically for substance use management. Some attempt to replicate the in-person experience of treatment while others provide additional supportive activities and educational materials.


At the end of this post you will find a list of resources compiled by the Addictions and Recovery Organization that you or a loved one could use to help manage substance use during the pandemic.

As we are presented with a “new normal” during this time of COVID-19, it is important to pay attention to our habits and be honest when things take a turn for the worse, so that we can get support before our use spirals into something harmful and long-lasting. If you or a loved one is struggling to maintain sobriety or has begun to experience new challenges with substance use, please reach out for support. Most importantly, show yourself and others compassion by recognizing and accepting that things are really WEIRD right now, and nobody has to face these struggles alone.


RESOURCES


Self-Help Groups Outlined by Melemis (2020) Found at https://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/addiction-recovery-links.htm


Reference

Melemis, S. (2020, April 22). Addiction Recovery Recommended Links. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/addiction-recovery-links.htm

· 12 Steps (12step.org)

· Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) (aa.org)

· Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) (adultchild.org)

· Cocaine Anonymous (CA) (ca.org)

· Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) (crystalmeth.org)

· Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) (foodaddicts.org)

· Food Compulsions Anonymous (foodcompulsions.wordpress.com)

· Gamblers Anonymous (GA) (gamblersanonymous.org)

· LifeRing Secular Recovery (lifering.org)

· Marijuana Anonymous (marijuana-anonymous.org)

· Narcotics Anonymous(NA) (na.org)

· Nicotine Anonymous (nicotine-anonymous.org)

· Smart Recovery (smartrecovery.org)

· Women for Sobriety (WFS) (womenforsobriety.org)

· XA Speakers (xa-speakers.org)

· AA Intergroup (aa-intergroup.org)

· Addiction Recovery Guide (addictionrecoveryguide.org)

· Addiction Survivors (addictionsurvivors.org)

· NA Chat (na-chat.com)

· Quit Smoking Support (quitsmokingsupport.com)

· Recovery Zone (recoveryzone.org).

· Soberistas (soberistas.com)

· Support Groups (supportgroups.com)


Support Groups for Family and Friends

· Adultchildren.org (adultchildren.org) For adult children of alcoholics and addicts.

· Al-Anon.org (al-anon.org) For family members of alcoholics.

· Coda.org (coda.org) For co-dependent individuals.

· Gam-anon (gam-anon.org) For family members of gamblers.

· Nar-anon (nar-anon.org) For family members of addicts.

· S-Anon (sanon.org) Family & Friends of Sexaholics

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