Establishing and maintaining recovery during a pandemic
September is National Recovery Month, an observance to reflect on recovery and a reminder that a life free of addictive substances is possible.
While people determined to seek or maintain sobriety can succeed, the coronavirus has made it more challenging than usual. The combination of isolation, fear of getting sick, job loss, and uncertainty are unprecedented and have contributed to a lack of support for many in recovery. New data from around the U.S. and from the state of Michigan confirms that drug overdoses are spiking during the pandemic. Statistics released through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services indicate the number of opioid overdoses jumped 33% between April and May of this year. In addition, overdose clusters have shifted from traditional centralized urban locations to adjacent and surrounding suburban and rural areas.
Addiction treatment programs, especially residential rehab centers, have had to make drastic changes since the pandemic started. Outpatient facilities who were able to, moved to online therapy and treatment, while residential treatment programs had to limit reduce capacity, secure personal protective equipment, closely monitor the health of staff, and managing staff shortage.
The first step towards recovery begins with the realization of the situation, that change is needed, and help is wanted and welcomed. Outside support, from trained professionals, is necessary for a person with an addiction to be successful. Despite the pandemic-related challenges affecting recovery treatment programs, support is available, and recovery is possible.
Substance abuse treatment is more than addressing addiction. Many people diagnosed with a substance use disorder also suffer from a co-occurring mental health or behavioral disorder. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 45% of people in the U.S. struggle with a dual diagnosis. People diagnosed with a mental health condition are about twice as likely as the general population to suffer from a substance use disorder. When looking for a treatment program, make sure the organization addresses and treats co-occurring disorders through an integrated treatment plan. They should provide mental health assessments, identify appropriate interventions, and prescribe medications if required.
Some common questions and things to consider if you or someone you love is dealing with a substance abuse disorder:
How can I manage my substance use disorder during this pandemic?
There are no barriers other than a reluctance to reach out. Staying engaged with a support system is crucial. There are virtual AA and NA meetings and individual therapy is available through Telehealth, making it easily accessible from anywhere.
How has COVID changed treatment for substance abuse?
Since COVID-19 began, it forced treatment professionals to adapt and provide more TeleHealth assessment, counseling, and treatment. This has opened new opportunities that were not available prior to the pandemic. Support services such as medication-assisted treatment are still being offered.
The online recovery community has grown tremendously as a result and will continue when restrictions lift, which should provide more options for support meetings for high-risk people who cannot attend face-to-face support meetings due to health or other reasons.
How can I support a loved one with an addiction problem?
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for helping a family member who is drinking too much, using drugs, or dealing with a mental illness, research shows that family support can play a major role in helping a loved one with mental and substance use disorders.
When a family member is experiencing a mental or substance use disorder, it can affect more than just the person in need of recovery. Evidence has shown that some people have a genetic predisposition for developing mental and substance use disorders and may be at greater risk based on environmental factors such as having grown up in a home affected by a family member’s mental health or history of substance use. Families should be open to the options of support groups or family therapy and counseling, which can improve treatment effectiveness by supporting the whole family.
It is also important to remember that the unique challenges that come from helping a loved one with a mental or substance use disorder can be taxing, so caregivers should take steps to prioritize their own health as well.
There are programs designed to help people in these situations take care of themselves whether their loved one stops using or not. There are online support groups, and health professionals are finding new ways to support families during COVID. Contact Community Care Services at 313-389-7500 to learn more.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 35 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.