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Avoiding Relapse During COVID-19

COVID-19 has impacted people’s lives around the world, from their financial stability to their family dynamics. Social distancing is not easy on anyone, but it is negatively impacting one group in particular. This sudden change in the structure of our society has increased the risk of relapse for those people in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). As the pandemic continues to unfold, the world is locking down and forcing millions out of work and into isolation.

It can be difficult for those who are recovering from a SUD to maintain sobriety with their routine uprooted. As a result, many individuals have relapsed during COVID-19. Unfortunately, relapses are a normal part of the alcohol and drug recovery process. In fact, it is estimated that 40% – 60% of individuals in recovery have at least one relapse before reaching sobriety. Some studies have been more liberal in their estimates and believe that this number could be as high as 90%.

The Risk of Relapse During COVID-19

Reputable therapists across the globe have come to believe that relapses during the pandemic have been brought on by feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and boredom. Everyone is struggling with finding social support in a new way and missing their familiar active involvement. Those with substance use disorders are missing the consistency of working an active program, which contributes to the success of many recoveries. Without putting in the effort to adjust to the new way of program involvement, emotional distress can become a trigger to relapse.

Studies have shown that there is a connection between social isolation and addiction. It has been concluded that isolation is associated with worse treatment outcomes. Research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information states that “In early recovery, this aloneness may be acute to the extent an alcoholic/addict is not connected to other sober peers and able to commiserate with him or her, appreciate each step taken in sobriety, or encourage him or her in the same direction of responsible living.”

Common Signs of Relapse

Some people are isolated at home alone while others are with their family or close support systems. Having a family or friend support system close helps identify relapse signs during COVID-19 like:

  • Poor eating
  • Sleeping disruptions
  • Declining hygiene
  • Reconnecting with old friends who still use
  • Frequent lying
  • Dismissing emotions
  • Skipping or avoiding virtual support meetings

People who are at risk of relapse may loosen their grip on self-imposed rules, share their cravings for drugs or alcohol, or romanticize past substance abuse. They may express that they believe they can use their drug of choice in a controlled way.

Lowering The Risk of Relapse During COVID-19

Loved ones can offer support and reduce the risk of relapse by creating a safe and healthy home environment. They can introduce opportunities for open and honest communication, and actively listen to what those in recovery share. It’s essential to continue to hold users accountable while offering encouragement and positivity. Users with a strong support system are reminded that no matter the circumstances there are still options for growth, guidance, and discipline – even during social isolation from a pandemic.

It’s beneficial for someone in recovery to keep a structured routine. It is not up to family members to constantly combat their loved one’s relapse, but they can contribute to sober success by providing support. Those in recovery need to actively prevent relapse by using tools, skills, and strategies to cope during this unprecedented time.

One reliable way to work a recovery program during COVID-19 is to stay virtually engaged. It’s important to find alternative ways to receive ongoing support. Reading recovery-oriented literature, practicing prayer, and meditation are all available digitally. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other support groups have meetings available online via webcam, or by phone. There are also options to stay connected via social media as well as by telephone or email. Virtual 12-step meetings are an accessible way to receive support. Adopting healthy activities like journaling, creating arts and craft projects, and cooking healthy meals are all ways to stay present and connected during COVID-19.

Empathy and encouragement are necessary to help support a loved one that may have relapsed. Strongly encourage them to take the right steps by returning to treatment. Boardwalk Recovery Center is open during COVID-19 and continues to provide successful treatment to those who need it. At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we work with current clients to prevent relapse and can help those who have had a setback during the pandemic to make sure they don’t relapse again.

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