A return to normal desired
The COVID-19 pandemic has been underway for several weeks now in America, and states are beginning to explore the possibility of resuming normal operations. Temperatures are beginning to rise as people grow weary of stay at home orders and the stresses that come along with them. This desire to return to normalcy has led to protests, many of which contain angry citizens who may be business owners or unemployed people who want to be allowed to keep working.
In Michigan, this led to hundreds of people descending on the state capitol building demanding to be let in. Some of them were visibly carrying guns. This show of public outrage shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt many people, and not just those who contract the virus. Among these are people who struggle with substance use disorder, or SUD.
A problematic pandemic
Many people who’ve gotten off drugs and were in recovery have fallen victim to the pandemic by relapsing. Stress is one of the primary triggers for relapse among people who are in recovery, so it’s no surprise that we’re starting to get word from communities that those in recovery aren’t doing well with the isolation. Like nearly all American healthcare systems, the rehabilitation and recovery industry is a dated model that was not constructed with infectious disease prevention in mind.
Based on the concept that group support is effective in helping people conquer addiction, virtually all models of substance abuse treatment feature either group meetings, sessions, or living arrangements. This is even truer of recovery support, which usually takes place after treatment and many people depend on it to maintain sobriety. The predominant model is Alcoholics Anonymous and its subsets like Narcotics Anonymous. Because of COVID-19, these are no longer options for many people.
We’re starting to see the results of this, as reports of spikes in overdose deaths since COVID-19 arrived have begun to cause concerns. But not everyone is struggling or relapsing, and many in the recovery community have adapted and found new ways to stay connected during these times. And while some treatment centers have closed their doors, others have remained open to provide this essential service to the country.
AA has posted a website that gives instructions on how people can host their own virtual meetings, as well as a list of meetings others are hosting, which you can join on various platforms like Zoom. This means that anyone who wants to attend a meeting at least has some access or can start one up among their local group members without violating stay at home orders and social distancing recommendations. Many people are turning to this as an option to get that group connectedness.
Others are utilizing Telehealth and seeing doctors, psychiatrists, and participating in treatment sessions of a variety of formats. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has started its own substance abuse telehealth program, where people can undergo everything from medical assessments to group therapy at home. It includes multiple check-ins throughout the day with doctors and nurses, as well as support for medication-assisted approaches.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
As you can see, there are options that people can use for support instead of relapsing. Just because we’re social distancing, doesn’t mean we cannot stay connected with the people in our lives that help us. Hopefully, things will start to relax, and we can resume the full network of care we need if it’s safe to do so. Until then, we must continue to give support to those who struggle with addiction and be creative in our approach to giving them the assistance they need.