The dangers of isolation in addiction recovery

June 30, 2020
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A well-known recovery mantra for addiction programs is “we cannot do this alone.” Yet the current pandemic is forcing people into isolation.

Addiction is a disease that breeds from isolation, and this pandemic has unfortunately created that landscape. Although many businesses have been closed, addiction does not take a break — and neither does recovery.

The pandemic has eliminated resources or changed the way in which they are delivered. Actions that have long been discouraged in recovery, like isolation, are now being offered as solutions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Structure and predictability are two key components to a foundation for recovery. Regular in-person check-ins and meetings create safety, security and freedom from judgement for those in recovery. Yet, in-person meetings that were once plentiful have been transitioned to virtual meetings. For many, it is not enough. Those in recovery attend meetings to be social, feel connected, and be around people. This level of connection and fellowship is currently missing with the digital experience.

Addiction is a disease of isolation. Social and emotional isolation during COVID-19 can bombard individuals with unwanted thoughts, feelings and memories and lead to both physical and emotional discomfort. One cannot escape their own mind no matter how hard they try. Some individuals use substances to “solve” the “problem” of feeling, which often leads to the development of co-existing conditions.

Additionally, social media has been inundated with a wave of virtual happy hours and day drinking posts. People are normalizing drinking alcohol “to get through the stress.” Social media has become a possible trigger and unsafe outlet for those in recovery.

Likewise, the opioid epidemic has not slowed during this time and it has been identified as the pandemic within the pandemic. The medical profession has taken great strides in effectively addressing and treating opioid use disorder, and it is critical that COVID-19 does not undo the progress that has been made.

This is truly a challenging time for those in recovery who are battling both the addiction and the stigma that comes with the disease. This journey reinforces the need for community, structure and daily commitments to recovery.

Social isolation creates a very scary environment. Those in recovery should try to stay as connected as possible, reflect on the challenges they’ve overcome, and validate their own recovery efforts. Practicing new routines and rituals that promote recovery will alleviate emotional distress and reinforce that this too shall pass.

Linden Oaks offers virtual options as well as face-to-face programming to foster support in a group setting. Our staff members are taking every precaution to ensure that they can continue to deliver services in a safe and effective manner.

Linden Oaks programs are all evidence-based and address mental health conditions alongside substance use.

For updates on COVID-19, check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.