“I felt like I could only be comfortable around people when I was drunk”, “I didn’t feel alone when I was high”, “I felt bonded to people when I did drugs with them”, “I felt alone, but could numb that pain when I was drunk”.
These are some of the ways that individuals with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) describe how they felt when they were drinking or using drugs. While each story is different, there are many common themes. Substances were often used by individuals with SUDs in order to fill a void, to decrease inhibitions socially or to feel connected to something outside of themselves. Therefore, when these individuals get sober, they may struggle in terms of connecting with people, feeling comfortable socially and feeling whole. The foundation of many self-help groups such as 12-Step Programs, SMART Recovery and group therapy is to facilitate authentic interpersonal interactions between group members. These connections may begin slowly and can be challenging for many who have not put themselves in the position to have meaningful friendships in a sober environment. Many individuals in recovery report that being vulnerable with others can be intimidating and something that they have avoided. However, recovery is about individuals pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone in order to grow emotionally.
Fast forward to today. Due to COVID-19 prevention, most of our country is under some form of stay at home order, requested to social distance, work and self-care activities are cancelled or done remotely and therefore, isolation is inevitable. While these preventative measures are focused on keeping the public safe medically, there are many impacts on those in early addiction recovery. Given that much of the treatment goals for SUDs includes peer connections and reintegration into society, this can be a challenging time.
The In-Home Addiction Treatment Institute (IHATI) provides training for healthcare professionals in a model that can adapt to unprecedented times. This treatment modality adapts well to each client’s needs as well as to the sudden changes in service delivery of healthcare during this pandemic. This innovative model provides clients with a treatment team of providers who include those with lived experience and a way to connect differently than traditional addiction treatment, while coordinating clinical care as well. During this time of isolation, it is so valuable to have an accessible form of treatment that also encourages interpersonal connection with their treatment team, to improve family systems dynamics and to connect them with community resources.
IHATI trained treatment teams are staying connected remotely to their clients during this time, administering a year-long recovery curriculum and supporting them in utilizing a variety of telehealth and remote self-help meetings as well as other relevant recovery resources. While this is a time that can be easy to avoid connecting with people and to disengage from addiction treatment, having a IHAT team will increase accountability and social connections to counteract these disconnected times.
By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC