Recovery support has transitioned to the digital domain as the coronavirus deprives members of its primary resource: peer-to-peer contact. For those in recovery, isolation is an incredibly dangerous setup with the potential to force past trauma to surface and drive those with less resilience to seek out mind numbing chemicals to offset the intensity. Feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, depression, loneliness, boredom, and fear can quickly escalate during this period of extended isolation. In fact, industry professionals saw a noticeable spike in relapses in March as a result of the stress associated with isolation, unemployment, dwindling bank and brokerage accounts, ennui, cabin fever, and intra-family tension.
The Vicious Cycle
Substance use disorder is definitely a disease, acknowledged by the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Medical Association. It develops when the uncontrollable urge to take an addictive substance hijacks that part of the brain known as the limbic system. This system, also known as the “reptilian brain,” unconsciously rewards certain behaviors and provides benefits to the body to ensure its survival. Drugs, food, sex, gambling, cigarettes, and alcohol, among other things, all interact with the limbic system to release powerful feel-good chemicals and emotions, strongly affecting a person’s body and mind. Our brains reward us when we engage in an activity that provides us with pleasure. As a result, we continue to engage in the specific activity that supports and perpetuates these feel-good emotions released by the brain (generally in the form of dopamine), thereby creating a vicious cycle of abuse and addiction. Eventually, people continue to engage in the same behavior simply to feel “normal.” That’s when they’re hooked.
Community is one of the primary antidotes to substance abuse. Experts agree that in-person access to similarly situated individuals is a critical component to long-term recovery. In fact, according to John Donovan, head of the Recovery Community Network, community ties are not only a powerful antidote to addiction, but also a strong deterrent. As British journalist Johann Hari explains in his must-watch TED Talk “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong,” the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but rather, connection.
Many national, statewide, and local phone and online support groups have recently emerged in the wake of COVID-19 to provide that very connection for people during this critical period. And this assemblage is taking place not merely on a local level, but on a global one – as reaching out to those in far flung locales is as easy and interacting with a neighbor. If you or a friend is seeking to join in, some of the following sites can help point you in the right direction:
These are just a few to get you started. A quick Google search will most likely turn up a host of niche groups tailored to your specific needs and interests. There’s even a group for scientologists!
Have fun, good luck, and stay safe!