How to Handle Addiction in the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused incredible amounts of pain and suffering worldwide, but what perhaps has gone unnoticed is how much addicts are suffering.
We might call it the hidden epidemic because so much focus is now on COVID-19 that people are starting to forget how much we’re suffering (and how much worse it’s gotten now that the pandemic has forced us into isolation).
If you’re struggling to stay sober during the pandemic, here’s what I’ve found helps me to stay sober and make it through.
Go to Lots of Meetings
Though many people today rely on harm-reduction medications like Suboxone to stay sober, let me be clear that there’s nothing wrong with this — I’ve found that attending 12-step meetings is the main way most people are staying sober.
Because of the pandemic, many people have found that going to in-person meetings is not possible. Many meetings have shut down completely, while many more have moved primarily online.
What I do is go to lots and lots of online meetings. I work several 12-step programs, and because I travel a lot, it’s often hard for me to make it to a meeting in person.
I’m also not too interested in going to in-person meetings because of the risk of contracting COVID-19. For me, it’s just not a risk I’m willing to take.
So what I do to fight the pandemic’s isolation is to go to lots of online meetings.
Now, this isn’t to say that in-person meetings are bad — they’re just not for me. If you’re okay with going to them, by all means, go. Isolation is such a huge trigger for most addicts that doing anything to get out of the house and around people is positive, even if it’s not 100% safe.
That being said, many people are now vaccinated. The safety of in-person meetings is much higher than it was even a few months ago. Though I won’t go to in-person meetings, I often recommend it to my sponsees.
Regardless of the method, going to lots of meetings is a good idea. I’ve found myself sometimes going to two meetings a day online to keep the isolation from getting too bad.
Meetings were highly recommended well before the pandemic. Now, it’s even more critical than ever that we get to them to stay connected to our people — people in recovery.
Call Friends in Recovery
Staying connected through meetings is good, but it’s easy to go to a meeting and remain silent, to stay out of the discussion, to wander in and wander out without making connections.
Meetings can cause serious anxiety. That anxiety can be debilitating. That’s why I recommend calling friends in recovery — or even just acquaintances. Staying connected to people is so, so, so important right now.
Nothing breeds depression and the desire to drink or use quite like isolation. Even if you’re not willing to spend time with your friends in person, at least calling them and staying connected is a good idea.
If you don’t have friends in recovery, go to a meeting and say so. Say that you need someone to talk to. Say that you need a sponsor. Get some people in your life who are trying to stay sober and who are willing to support you.
It can make all the difference in the world to your sobriety.
Be Rigorous About Your Routine
Routines are a critical part of my sobriety. I’ve found that it’s so easy these days to get out of a routine (or to have an unhealthy routine) because I’m at home so often.
A lack of routine — for me — often leads to depression. Depression is something that, at ten years sober, I still struggle with from time to time.
A lack of routine makes it worse.
If I’m not careful, if I don’t wake up at the same time every day and try to do something productive, I will easily find myself sinking into depression.
It’s very common that addicts will suffer from other mental health issues, like anxiety or depression. It’s easy for depression to get out of control when you’re not keeping busy.
I think that’s why a routine is so important to me. A routine keeps me feeling like I’m doing the right thing, that I’m productive.
For example, if I wake up at the same time every day, if I go to the same meetings every day or every week, if I work on something — even if it’s just some person writing or some art or a hobby — then go to bed at the same time every night, then I feel good about my day.
It’s important for me to try to work in other parts of the 12-steps, like meditation and prayer in the mornings and nights.
When I combine all these things, I find it much easier to stay sober during this pandemic.
Staying Sober Is Hard in the Best of Times
I won’t lie to you — even at ten years sober, I still struggle from time to time. The pandemic has interrupted my routine, isolated me from my meetings, and isolated me from my friends.
When I pick up the phone, I feel better. When I go to a meeting, I feel better. When I have a good routine, I feel better.
These things are true even outside of the pandemic.
Even before all this craziness, it was hard to stay sober. Most of us struggle a lot to achieve and maintain sobriety.
If you’re struggling, try these tips, and remember that you’re not alone. All of us are struggling together right now — and not just addicts.
We might be part of the hidden epidemic, but we can still stay sober, one day at a time, through these and other methods.
To learn more about how I stay sober week after week, check out my 11 tips to stay sober here.