“Social Distancing”. The term is being used daily, and is the complete opposite of what individuals in early recovery from substance use disorders (SUD) should be doing under normal circumstances. The addiction treatment field and mutual help groups focus on the healing benefits of community and social support. Spending too much time at home, inside and “in your head” is warned against, because it can allow addictive thoughts to dominate without challenge. Talking with other people and sharing about thoughts and feelings is recommended for most people, and especially those who are vulnerable during early sobriety.
However, COVID-19 prevention is recommending the opposite. In order to protect our physical health, the Center for Disease Control is recommending that people stay at home and limit social interactions to only what is necessary. While it is important to follow these medical recommendations, it is also necessary to consider and find solutions for the negative impact that these sudden changes in social behavior will have on addiction and mental health recovery.
We are fortunate to live in a time where technology is allowing us to stay connected with others through our phones, computers and video conferencing. Many 12-Step meetings are holding Zoom online meetings to keep members connected in a more intimate way. There are yoga studios, meditation groups, religious organizations and more utilizing these video platforms as well.
The In-Home Addiction Treatment Institute (IHATI) is training healthcare professionals to treat individuals in their homes- which is needed now more than ever. This innovative treatment model allows treatment teams to work remotely when needed with clients in order to adapt to their schedules and at this time, social distancing. The treatment teams are providing much needed structure, remote alcohol and drug testing and care coordination for clients and keeping them connected to remote and virtual resources. The IHAT treatment team provides care by administering recovery-based curriculum and navigating local and remote resources.
The IHATI also trains healthcare professionals to care for the entire family system. Families are under an enormous amount of stress both from having a loved one getting sober and from COVID-19 life changes. The Family Education Program facilitates a recovery path for loved ones, which at this time can be conducted remotely. Many families are spending more time together than they may have during normal times. Having a IHAT trained team supporting the family in creating appropriate boundaries and moderating family challenges can allow the entire family to recover- together.
The following are some suggestions for ways to maintain social connections during the COVID-19:
- Reach out remotely and check on at least 1 person each day who is a loved one, friend or acquaintance
- Set boundaries and take space within your own home
- Avoid toxic social media interactions and information
- Make an effort to engage in healthy and positive social interactions
- Get outside, even in your yard, and enjoy time with loved ones from home
- Find online self-care and spirituality support (yoga classes, Insight Timer meditation app, group meditation, remote religious services, etc.)
- Stay connected to your recovery support system
- Help community members through service of any form
- Reach out to friends for support if you are having a hard time
- Don’t forget to LAUGH with others- humor can be the best medicine.
By: Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC