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Addiction and isolation: New challenges and opportunities

Mirmont Treatment Center April 21, 2020 Substance Use Disorders

With all 67 counties in Pennsylvania under the Stay at Home Order, people with substance use disorders have had to make some adjustments to avoid addiction and isolation—whether their recovery began years ago or just at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

In addition to the disruption in work and family routines, people with addiction issues have had to adjust to new ways of connecting with others to get the support they need to get and stay sober. Some of these circumstances are particularly challenging while others present new ways for people to support one another and connect with people they would never otherwise have met. 

Addiction and isolation when someone’s been sober for awhile

For a person who’s already been sober or free from drugs for a while and may already be in a routine of going to 12-step meetings and sponsoring others with addiction disorders, the adjustment to online or virtual meetings (such as Zoom) may be a fairly smooth transition. After all, there’s already familiarity with the 12-step programs and with people that may be in the group. There’s camaraderie and familiarity.  

“What’s unique about it is people can attend meetings all over the world with a variety of people and cultures,” explains Jessica Molavi, clinical educator at Mirmont Treatment Center, part of Main Line Health. “This is highly recommended and supportive during this time. People are offering to be of service by volunteering and helping where they can, which of course is part of recovery, to give back. There are also virtual options for therapy and outpatient treatment which people have access to, no matter what.” 

In fact, Mirmont provides virtual 12-step meetings three days a week and also offers a virtual first responder 12-step meeting to support emergency workers and those working on the front lines during this critical time. 

Addiction and isolation when someone’s newly sober

For someone who is just getting sober or was just starting to go to meetings when the Stay At Home Order was delivered, it might have felt like an obstacle right out of the gate. Someone newly sober might be thinking, “Just when I was ready to get sober, now this!” Early sobriety is indeed such an important time for building a foundation, finding a sponsor, finding meetings and people to connect with, and getting into healthy self-care habits. It’s also a risky time for going out and using or drinking again.

Says Molavi, “People who are new to recovery and just exited treatment would be most at risk due to vulnerability to isolation and disconnection. In general, those are two of the worst things for a person in recovery. Sobriety is very much about community, connection, commitment, relationships with other recovery-oriented individuals, service and active change. The quarantine poses a threat to people in general but people with more sober time may do better because over the years they have adapted and have relationships already established.”

Nonetheless it’s important to take responsibility for your sobriety at whatever stage you’re in and to honor your commitment to a sober path. This means you may need to purchase books and other materials online that you might have previously picked up at a meeting. You might also have to work a little harder at finding online meetings or enduring some inconveniences with technology due to virtual meetings. 

Plus, you won’t get to go out for coffee with people afterwards—but you may be able to propose virtual coffee with someone whose sobriety you admire. Instead of sitting in the back of a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) room and hiding out, your initials or your face will be onscreen for all to see so you may as well introduce yourself! The sooner you put yourself into the meetings, the better people will get to know you, and you to know them. And soon enough, you’ll all be going out for coffee after an in-person meeting.

Addiction and isolation when someone needs drug or alcohol detox

With so much uncertainty, someone who needs or is really wanting to detox from drugs or alcohol may be reluctant to seek out treatment. Staying at home has become the comfort zone for most of us and there’s a general feeling of “I’ll do X when this is all over.” But of course, we don’t really know when this will all be over. 

When it comes to substance use disorders, their psychological and emotional damage and sometimes life-threatening effects, waiting another day or even an hour is too long. If you or someone you know needs detox or any kind of drug and alcohol treatment services, it is available and you shouldn’t wait. 

Mirmont Treatment Center is still accepting patients on an inpatient basis and there are safety measures in place to ensure that patients and staff are safe from COVID infection and transmission. Adds Molavi, “The Mirmont staff continues to work tirelessly to ensure patients can still have the best care possible while being free to simply focus on their own health and well-being.” 

Another aspect of detox at this unique time in history has been the closure of Pennsylvania liquor stores, which until the recent reopening with limited curbside pickup, was making it much more challenging for people to obtain liquor. For some who may have been ready to quit or consider quitting, the enforced scarcity of alcohol may have been just the encouragement they needed to check into a residential treatment facility. Under physician care, patients receive medically monitored detox, which helps diminish the effects of withdrawal and eases the person into a recovery and treatment plan.

Addiction and isolation when someone uses drugs or alcohol to avoid withdrawal

One group less likely to practice social distancing is people who rely on street drugs and interact with drug dealers. COVID-19 doesn’t stop the flow of narcotics but it does make things a bit more challenging. Products are more limited. Prices are increased. Access may be more difficult. Yet addiction prevails and people will continue to find and use drugs.

For people with severe alcohol addiction, not being able to access liquor as readily because of the recent liquor store closings has posed not only a high threat of withdrawal, which can be life-threatening, but also a tendency to turn to other dangerous forms of alcohol, such as air coolant or hand sanitizer.

If you’re concerned about detoxing and withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, you don’t have to do it alone. Mirmont Treatment Center provides Medicated-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for patients needing detox from drugs or alcohol, to help minimize the side effects of withdrawal as you begin a sober way of living.

“It’s hard in general for people to be stuck in isolation over a long period of time,” adds Molavi. “If you have pre-existing issues with mental health or addiction it can really trigger and exaggerate symptoms such as unhealthy thinking, poor decision-making, desire to self-medicate and impulsive behaviors. People need connection and accountability to stay on track, and self-care is hugely important. Meditation, prayer, exercise and yoga are all recommended to help people stay grounded and out of their own heads.”

Start the road to recovery today. Call us at 1.888.CARE.898 (227.3898) to schedule a confidential appointment and ask any questions. Or, use our secure online form to email us.