Relapse prevention tips during the coronavirus are more important than ever for members of the addiction recovery community, according to experts in the treatment field.
Because of COVID-19, thousands of recovery meetings around the world have been impacted. And while many recovery programs have moved to the digital space where online meetings are being held across various platforms like Zoom, that’s not the same as in-person attendance.
“I really miss going to a meeting,” says Chris Rowe, a recovery coach and the Volunteer Coordinator at Cornerstone of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in East Tennessee. Rowe got clean and sober in 2001 and still attends recovery meetings regularly.
“There’s just something about sitting around a room with others in recovery,” he adds. “Even if I’m not getting anything out of it, I’m part of a community. I’m around people. I’m being social. That’s what I enjoy about meetings anyway, is the social part. I hear wonderful things, and I get encouragement from people, but it’s about hugging people and seeing people and hearing how they’re doing.”
Other mental health professionals have seen that disconnect take a toll on members of the recovery community. Dayry Hulkow, a therapist at a South Florida addiction treatment facility, told Fox News recently  that her organization has already seen an uptick in relapses.
“Social support and active involvement in the program both play a huge role in recovery," Hulkow said. “In the absence of these, ‘isolation’ and ‘emotional distress’ can be significant ‘triggers’ to relapse. Feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, loneliness and boredom can easily escalate particularly during this time.”
So what can recovering addicts and alcoholics do to maintain their sobriety during these challenging times? According to experts, some of these relapse prevention tips during the coronavirus are common sense, while others require a willingness to try something new.
Using a digital app like Zoom isn’t difficult. After all, there’s a reason “it's so popular on mobile that it's 2nd only to TikTok as the world's most downloaded app across the last week,” according to a recent story in Business Insider . “During that period, Zoom added ‘close to 20 million new mobile users,’ according to data provided by mobile data analytics firm Sensor Tower.”
The key, of course, is having the willingness to try an online meeting, according to Rowe. Once that threshold is crossed, he adds, those who take part in online meetings might find a whole new recovery support tool that helps them stay sober.
“One of my favorites is a 24/7 international (12 Step) meeting , where you can join on at any time of the day,” he says. “It might take you a minute to figure out what the topic is, but there’s always about 300 people on there, and you hear people speaking English from Belgium, from Montana, from New Zealand, all talking about the same stuff.
“You hear a lot about how anywhere we go, we can feel at home in a meeting, and I know that’s true on some level, but joining this international meeting has, in some weird way, made me feel more connected to the fellowship as a whole. I’ve always known that people really are doing this (recovery) thing everywhere, but being in a meeting with them is a whole different animal. It really does make you feel more connected.”
Again, he stresses, it’s not the same as an in-person meeting, and an anonymous alcoholic writing for the publication Deadline  echoes similar concerns — the requirement of a basic degree of online literacy and a smart device or a computer, for example, to take part in such meetings … of which not all recovering addicts and alcoholics have. “So, yes, things are different,” writes “M.”, “but in these uncertain times, with fear run rampant, I am still so grateful to still have a community of friends with whom I can continue to share my feelings, my struggles, my joy – and for a weirdly OK digital platform on which to convene.”
Relapse Prevention Tips During the Coronavirus: Routine!
Speaking to ABC News , Hulkow emphasized the need for those in recovery to establish a schedule that provides them with structure: “The biggest part is trying to maintain a routine as normal as possible," she said. "I know there are many abnormal things about the current situation, but trying to at least stick to our basic routine, which is sleeping times, meal times, self-care time, if there’s exercise, yoga, certain hobbies that we still have access to. Trying to surround yourself with as much positive activities and normalcy within our lives can definitely be very helpful."
Structure is critical for those in recovery, for a number of reasons: It provides order to lives that previously revolved around chaos, but it also gives stability to individuals who often turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve instability or boredom. “One of the most common causes of a relapse is boredom,” according to writers for Canada’s Stenberg College . “All too often, someone recovering from addiction can end up feeling like their time is spent focusing on not doing something, rather than on trying new, healthy and inspiring things. In these cases, inactivity and lack of direction may invoke old habits, leading right back to addictive behaviors.”
But if you’re looking for relapse prevention tips during the coronavirus, how do you even begin to establish a routine when you can’t leave the house? Writer Joe Freeman detailed several critical components of routine in a column for The Oregonian , including:
- Self-care: “While it may be tempting to sleep in and languish in bed until the afternoon or mope around all day in sweats without taking a shower … resist those urges and charge ahead as if you were weren’t living through a state of national emergency.”
- Stay productive: If you’re working from home, organize your day like you would if you were at the office. If you’re furloughed or laid off, spend your work hours filing claims or sending in resumes. Take specific breaks, and look for ways to work household chores into the routine, so that you don’t neglect your home life.
- Exercise: “Incorporating exercise into your daily routine helps boost physical and mental well-being.”
- Treat yourself: “Make sure you carve out a little time to do the things that bring you joy.”
Catch Up on Recovery Readings
If you belong to a 12 Step fellowship, chances are you have a copy of that particular fellowship’s literature. After all, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous are often given away at drug and alcohol treatment centers to patients who come there for help. But how often do individuals in recovery really and truly read those works with as much attention to detail as a religious individual does the Bible?
Sure, some recovering persons read it cover to cover, several times even. Others of us are familiar enough with those books that we can, by flipping through the pages for a few minutes, find the particular passage we may be looking for. But how often have we read the entire book, from front to back? Better yet, how often do we highlight passages, take notes and discuss the revelations contained therein with our recovery sponsors or those in our recovery networks? Better yet, how often do we branch out and read other fellowship-approved works that are specific to our individual recovery programs?
If there’s one thing COVID-19 has given us, it’s plenty of down time. Why not take advantage of it and get to know the literature of your particular recovery program a little better?
More Relapse Prevention Tips During the Coronavirus: Keep a Journal
If you’ve worked actual Steps — as in, written them out, through one 12 Step program or another — then you’ve no doubt experienced the benefits of such writing. Perhaps you even maintained a journal at one point in your recovery — during treatment, for example. But journaling, especially now that you have time to do so, can be a critical tool for maintaining your sobriety and another important relapse prevention tips during the coronavirus.
“Not only is keeping a journal a good record of your life, but it also is proof of your triumphs,” writes B. Noelle for the website Medium . “Journaling provides an avenue to tickle the paper with all your secrets that you’d never tell your friend or your deepest fears that you’re still working through. It’s free therapy and actually has a lot of science to back up the positive benefits.”
Such as: strengthening immune function, reducing blood pressure, improving lung and liver function, boosting mood and psychological well-being and lowering the number of symptoms of depression, writes Sam Louie for Psychology Today.
Journaling, incidentally, doesn’t have to take the form of a high schooler’s “Dear Diary” entries. Dream journals, gratitude journals, stream-of-consciousness journals, song lyrics, poetry … it all qualifies, because it’s all an expression of inner thought. And for individuals whose thoughts are conflicted because of coronavirus stress, those expressions can be powerful pressure valve releases during uncertain times.
Recognize: This Is What Recovery Has Trained You For
“When the rubber hits the road, this is my practically applying my recovery and doing everything else the program teaches besides just going to a meeting like I normally do,” says Rowe, reflecting on his own recovery. “During this time, I’m really going to see what my recovery looks like. I’m going to be able to evaluate the quality of my recovery and ask myself, ‘Did I make a poor decision? Were there better decisions I needed to make?’ It’s very empowering in some ways.”
As a recovery predecessor is fond of saying, “I came to recovery to make my life whole. I didn’t come to make it my whole life.” Recovery teaches addicts and alcoholics to accept life on life’s terms, and it gives them the tools they need to do just that. In addition, if the entire goal of recovery is a life beyond mere abstinence, then part of being a responsible, productive individual means being a member in good standing of the society that’s also dealing with something as broad and far-reaching as the coronavirus.
“I haven’t sat in a meeting in two weeks, but my life is really good right now,” Rowe says. “On the flip side of that, it’s also really scary, because I’ve gone through periods like this before by choice, when I was burnt out. I have to be careful that if I get through this time, I’m not trying to convince myself that I don’t need recovery because I made it through.”
In other words, he adds: If you’re feeling unsettled, uncertain, stressed out or worried, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Relapse prevention tips during the coronavirus are well and good, but it’s important to remember that until they’re put into action, they’re just suggestions. Recovery is a program of action, and that action — or inaction, as the case may be — will do far more to keep sober individuals from relapsing than anything else.