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5 Ways to Stop the Effects of COVID-19 On Addiction Recovery in Texas


“I am alone.”

That’s what many high-risk individuals who are going through an opioid addiction or an alcohol addiction feel — especially in the light of COVID-19, and in those cases, participation in a residential treatment center program may be appropriate. But just how extensive is the issue? According to the United States National Library of Medicine, overdose deaths have been on the increase due to increased feelings of isolation, changes in the varieties of drugs, and other factors. 

From Austin to Dallas to San Antonio, addiction recovery and treatment centers are seeing an alarming rise in relapses and overdoses. 

COVID-19 has revealed many issues — but the greatest of all is the inequality of the experience. The fact is that the pandemic puts people in recovery or those struggling with addictions at greater risk than the general population. Besides, the ones who need the most help are left with little options and access to care. 

However, there’s quite a bit you can do to stop relapse and stay in control of your recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How Does COVID-19 Affect Addiction Recovery in Texas?

The effects of COVID-19 on addiction recovery in Texas are being felt across the state. Not only are inquiries for residential programs up 22%, according to Times Record News,  but the number of individuals who are clean at any given time is dropping from a rate of 88% and 95% to 40% and 50%.

Map of United States showing percentage of Texans seeking treatment since pandemic began.

[Image Source]

You may be surprised to learn that one of the most significant ways that COVID-19 affects the addiction recovery process is through stress related to fear of the virus. 

Yes, we all feel those effects. But, for those in recovery, this stress related to fear of COVID-19 affects something called “PERMA.” And, especially during the beginning stages of recovery, it’s essential to keep PERMA permanent. 

As shared by The Dallas Morning News, Dr. John Talmadge, a Dallas-based psychiatrist who works with addiction therapy, defines PERMA as:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

He says that these are the areas that COVID-19 impacts the most with his patients. Most important of all, patients are relapsing due to disruptions in the “engagement” and “relationships” aspect of this model of psychotherapy. 

Limited in-person counseling and group meetings rob clients of the stability, support, resources, and connection they need to make the recovery process a success. 

And it’s not just psychological and mental — COVID-19 puts the health and immunity of those battling substance use disorders (SUDs) at risk, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Here are a few significant ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted those trying to maintain their recovery process.

Greater Health Vulnerability

There is new evidence that suggests that individuals who have a substance use disorder are physically vulnerable to COVID-19 and what the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls “adverse health outcomes.”

Researchers studying the electronic health records of 73 million patients across 360 U.S., according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, hospitals found that:

  • Those living with SUDs are at a higher risk of contracting and suffering worse or even long-term consequences from COVID-19.
  • The virus hits individuals who are African-American with an SUD hardest
  • Risk of COVID-19 was highest among those who had received an SUD diagnosis within the past year
  • Individuals with a recent SUD diagnosis were 10.2 times more likely to have COVID-19 and those with an alcohol use disorder were 7.8 times more likely to have or contract COVID-19
  • Patients with lifetime SUD diagnoses experienced much more severe symptoms and outcomes from COVID-19 than others. This included hospitalization (41% versus 30%) and death (9.6% versus 6.6%)

When they started asking, “why?” researchers found three main reasons for the greater impact of COVID-19 on those with addictions. 

Firstly, many studies show that chronic substance use can harm and weaken the body. For example, opioids compromise breathing. It can slow breathing down, which can lead to hypoxemia or reduced blood oxygen. 

Secondly, those with substance use disorders will still seek interaction with others when obtaining drugs despite social distancing requirements, which may also increase the risk of additional stress and possible problem behaviors.

For instance, binge drinking, excessive alcohol consumption, and increased alcohol consumption all lead to an inhibition decrease. In turn, people are more likely to engage in behaviors that may increase risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

And, lastly, substance use and addiction affect health more indirectly because of access to healthcare. Because of all kinds of stigmas, those battling addiction may feel reluctant to seek medical treatment. Even if and when they do seek treatment, there’s a higher chance they’ll receive substandard care or be rejected outright.

Longer Wait Times and Closures

Speaking of seeking medical treatment, COVID-19 can affect this experience negatively as well. Individuals with substance use disorders report having to wait longer these days to obtain treatment. Austin Station KUT 90.5 also notes that several treatment centers are either closing or putting in place limited access because they don’t have the staff to respond to the overwhelming numbers. 

Furthermore, more than 34% of individuals, says the NIDA, experienced disruptions in accessing treatment or recovery support since the start of the pandemic and 14% of people in recovery say they’re unable to obtain needed services that cater to public health.


Isolation can bring down the strongest and most resilient of individuals. Those in recovery are especially vulnerable to the emotional and mental toll that being cut off from the outside world can create. This creates the perfect storm for mental health and substance abuse or the worsening of existing mental health conditions that do not involve substances.

As an example, anxiety and depression may both worsen SUD and vice versa. Regardless, addiction treatment and a strong support system is key. 

It’s not simply about being unable to visit family and friends. Humans are social creatures and we thrive when we see others around us going about their daily lives. The opportunity to interact with others, even if it’s a simple exchange at the gas station or a coffee shop barista, can let us know:

We’re not alone.

Changes in Structure and Schedule

A reliable structure and a routine schedule sets the foundation for stability. It’s a crucial component of the recovery process and COVID-19’s restrictions and lockdowns can disrupt these. 

For those in outpatient treatment, COVID-19s restrictions can close down the support programs, community events, and sober activities that you rely on to keep you accountable, engaged, and connected with others. 

Without these hobbies and activities, the recovery process becomes disconnected and disrupted. It’s during these moments that you could experience triggers to drink or use.

Using Addictions as a Coping Mechanism

You might be thinking about the fact that social isolation could lead to relapse — and that’s true. But what’s even more critical is the fact that so many people who are living with addiction but haven’t yet sought out treatment (or even acknowledged that they have an addiction) will turn to these substances as a coping mechanism. 

A 2020 study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that there was a direct correlation last year between rising unemployment rates due to COVID-19 in Texas and the increase in opioid deaths.

20% of Americans who were recently laid off are using alcohol as a coping mechanism and Texas’ substance-abuse online inquiries are far higher than the national average. 

In other words, financial concerns, housing instability, and unemployment are difficult to handle at the best of times. But, for those living a sober lifestyle, the effects of COVID-19 restrictions can cause them to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol and substances.

How to Stay in Control and Prevent Relapse Due to COVID-19

It’s not all doom and gloom. Staying in control and preventing addiction relapse due to COVID-19 comes down to having a reliable plan. You may not be able to take advantage of the ideal recovery process completely, but you can certainly adapt and make a start. 

Here are five ways to counter the effects of COVID-19 on addiction recovery in Texas.

1) Recognize the Signs of Relapse

First of all, you need to know what the signs of relapse are. It could be you who is experiencing a combination of these signs or a loved one.

  • Poor eating or sleeping habits
  • Declining hygiene
  • Striking up relationships once more with others who still use
  • Constant lying
  • Bottling up emotion
  • Skipping or avoiding virtual support meetings

The last point is particularly important. Quite a few treatment resources have switched to the virtual support meeting format — which many in the early points of the recovery process may feel is not nearly as effective as in-person counseling. 

It’s true — there’s no substitute for that person-to-person interaction. But just committing to showing up can bring back some of that “routine” that’s key to recovery. If you’ve already committed to the recovery process, then sliding back into isolation is not an option. 

Your efforts need to be rewarded so, while virtual may not be perfect, it’s still a great substitute for accountability.

2) Connect Consistently With One Support Partner

As part of the “relationships” and “engagement” aspect of PERMA, it’s also wise to work consistently with one support partner. This can be as a part of a peer-to-peer recovery coaching method or through methods like Active Recovery Coaching, or through a treatment center’s alumni network. 

For example, New Choices Treatment Centers has a 100+ strong Alumni Group that connects over Facebook and allows individuals currently going through recovery to build relationships with those who are living a sober lifestyle. 

Having one support partner to rely on can make sure you’re not putting yourself at further risk to contract COVID-19 by limiting your interactions. However, it can also give you a chance to meet in person and have someone who knows your needs and history in a more intimate and personal way.

3) Keep Up With Group Exercises

One of the ways New Choices Treatment Center clients take advantage of group exercise is through our built-in Active Recovery Coaching program. This is a modality of mind-body therapy and a holistic recovery treatment approach. 

As part of the recovery process, individuals connect with personal trainers who have a variety of specialties in fitness niches like yoga, strength training, and CrossFit. They commit to these sessions, as well as to the work required to incorporate mindfulness, discipline, meditation, and goal-setting into their recovery. 

While our COVID-19 plan is always evolving, based on information by Texas Governor Abbott, clients of New Choices can still train at participating facilities with masks and social distancing.

4) Take Advantage of Changes to Methadone Treatment

Right now, people with opioid use disorders can begin treatment with buprenorphine without an initial in-person doctor visit. These more relaxed rules were rolled out because residents of Texas clearly need more responsive ways to address substance use disorders. 

While methadone treatment requires daily supervision and tightly controlled take-home options, patients who are deemed stable may also take home 28 days’ worth of doses. Others may be limited to 14 days. Those with SUDs can use changes to Medicare and Medicaid rules so that they can use telemedicine consultations and be reimbursed more easily.

5) Consider a Residential Treatment Program

A residential treatment program may not seem like an obvious answer to the COVID-19 situation in Texas. But the benefits of remaining in a safe place, with 24-hour access to clinicians, counselors, and nurses may be precisely the support you need at a time when we need to shelter in place.

New Choices’ RTC program is a month-long residential treatment option. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you won’t be risking further contact with others outside the center. On the other hand, you also have a safe space with counselors and other participants who are also screened and tested on a regular basis. 

Furthermore, our COVID-19 sanitization protocols are in place to make sure that residents and staff are virus-free, limiting contact while still maintaining a presence in each others’ lives for the 30-day duration. 

If you feel that you’re ready to make a change, and you know that isolation may cause you to feel triggered, an in-person residential program may actually be a safe and smart solution for you right now.

Bringing It All Together

Above all else, remember that “you are not alone.”

COVID-19 and addiction recovery in Texas is an ever-evolving situation. But, as always, the choice for change and transformation remains in the hands of each individual. These are trying times indeed, but it is also time to get more creative with our solutions and learn how to adapt. Optimum health and wellness are key to success in all areas of life and finally, we are beginning to give them the much-needed priority. 

At New Choices Treatment Centers, we believe in taking a holistic, mind-body-spirit connection to healing and recovery. Because addiction affects every part of an individual’s life, the road to recovery also needs to renew each aspect of that person’s relationship with themselves and others. Connect with an expert at New Choices Treatment Centers now.