social distancing and rehab

Social Distancing and Relapse

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Activity and community have always been core elements of recovery. Having people close to you provides the support and willpower that addiction erodes. Even those who are in successful recovery find that meetings with groups and sponsors can help to stay strong and choose their steps carefully. But social distancing requirements are changing the way addiction communities can gather and support each other. If not handled properly, this could lead to isolation and the temptation to relapse while cut off from traditional support lines.

If you are in recovery or are researching to help another, this article will help you understand how isolation, social distancing, and relapse are connected, and how to minimize that risk while maintaining a safe distance from those outside your household.

Social Distancing Increases Relapse Risk

Isolation has a way of making addiction worse. Without the distraction of social activities and the perspectives of others to consider, it’s easier to fall victim to one’s own internal challenges. For someone in recovery, that challenge is a constant tiny stream of “addict thoughts” that can become louder in times of stress. When they say addiction is a lifetime illness, this ever-present mental urge is often the symptom.

Recovery, for many, is a process of building a good life that is more powerful than the stream of addict urges in the back of the mind. Isolation removes those layers of community, responsibility, and productivity that quiet the urge to relapse and/or dive deeper into an addiction. In this way, any amount of isolation can increase the risk of relapse.

Social Distancing for Addicts in Recovery

During the Coronavirus pandemic, social distancing has closed schools, sent everyone home from work, and canceled all social gatherings. Even those performing mandatory errands must stand 6+ feet from each other. This has accumulated to make recovery support meetings and personal meetings with sponsors nearly impossible.

Even worse, social distancing and work-at-home policies have sent many in recovery at home who most need to be around people to stay healthy. The risk is worst for those who live alone, who will be completely isolated during this time. But those in recovery stuck at home with a partner or the whole family may also find the usual road-trip/cabin-fever frustrations pushing them toward a relapse as well.

It’s important to be aware of these risks and the motivations that can help to fight them.

What You Can Do to Fight Relapse from Social Distancing

The best way to stop a relapse is to prevent it. Through awareness of the risks, we can work together to keep spirits, motivation, and willpower high.

  • Clean House

    • Make sure there are no risk-substances in the house. If possible, remove all alcohol, medications, and items that might trigger or be used during a relapse. The best way to prevent relapse is to prevent contact.
  • Stay Busy

    • Activity and routine are essential. Social distancing cuts people off from their normal routines to stay active. So make plans to stay active at home. Build a home-office. Tackle home-improvement, arts-and-crafts, or science projects. Keep your days busy while also sticking to a healthy daily routine of sleep, meals, and connecting with your communities online.
  • Host or Attend Meetings Online

    • Recovery meetings are still going on, through the internet. If you’re a current member or in recovery independently, consider hosting a meeting for all who find and need your support. If you need a meeting but all in-person meetings are canceled, find the local groups online. Many recovery groups are meeting through social media and free video-call software.
  • Seek Online Treatment Programs

    • If you need guided treatment or prefer groups through treatment programs, these are available online, too. Here at First Steps Recovery, recovery programs and groups are continuing through online resources.
  • Build a Support Team at Home

    • If you share a household with family, work as a team to overcome the shared risks of cabin fever. Whether you are in recovery or living with someone in recovery, work together with compassion and understanding of each other’s weaknesses while isolated in a house together. If there are children in the house, explain the need for patience and the potential for increased emotional displays.
  • Provide Support Remotely to Friends

    • If you know someone who is isolated and in recovery or currently struggling with addiction, reach out. Help re-build that sense of connection through digital contact. Keep in touch, share your routines, and help your friend stay connected.
    • In some circumstances, it may be safe to ask an isolated friend to join your household. Especially if you have already been in close contact. As long as both households are healthy and neither include a member over 50 years old.
  • Be Honest with the Camera

    • One of the biggest dangers of social distancing for addicts is the urge to hide a relapse. Be honest with your camera frames and angles. It’s one thing to wear pajama pants out of frame, but another to relapse without asking for help. It may help to place your camera at a high corner-angle to cover an entire room, if you need friends to be more present with you.

Here at First Steps Recovery, we know that social distancing and work-at-home can increase the risk of relapse. Isolation is never easy for those struggling with addiction or to maintain their recovery. But you can connect. Go online and find your support communities. Get familiar with video conferencing software and choose one of the currently-free options, then get all your friends to download it. Host or join online meetings. And if you need online addiction treatment or recovery during this isolation period, First Steps Recovery resources are available. Contact us today to find out more.

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