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Social Isolation and Addiction Can Be a Dangerous Combination—How Can You Help?


Social Isolation and Addiction Can Be a Dangerous Combination—How Can You Help?

There is no question that addiction often leads to isolation, but it’s also critically important to understand how isolation is a trigger for addiction as well. As anyone with substance abuse issues knows, sobriety can be fragile in the best of times. Maintaining forward momentum in recovery becomes monumentally more difficult when an individual is isolated from their usual level of care provided by supportive influences and resources. It’s even possible to experience isolation when in close proximity to someone else. It is a particularly dangerous and insidious condition.

The good news is that there are real and meaningful actions you can do to provide a strong support network for family members in recovery during challenging times. As you might expect, when social isolation and addiction go hand-in-hand, reversing the isolation goes a long way toward fortifying the next step toward recovery. But that’s easier said than done.

The Compounded Challenge of Social Isolation and Addiction

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown an extreme reality into our paths that helps to bring the discussion of social isolation and addiction into sharp focus. Quarantine orders and self-isolation requirements from governors in nearly every state necessitated that families and friends distance themselves. Gathering places shut down, and in-person treatment options, like support meetings, were halted until further notice. Meanwhile, the crisis itself has stirred up anxiety, sadness, fear, grief, and frustration—not to mention, financial and other day-to-day insecurities that are likely to last for some time. Each of these factors is trying on its own, but combined, they make the likelihood of relapse a real risk for people with substance use disorders.

In addition to the negative emotions prompted by the pandemic isolation, the seclusion and loss of in-person connections are significant for many of us in our daily life. These conditions may be especially challenging for individuals in recovery. As days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the loss of in-person connections has the tendency to amplify our problems, and this may be very hard for some people to overcome alone. Maintaining recovery momentum and accountability is hard enough already; it can feel beyond reach under these conditions.

Safeguarding Sobriety in a Time of Crisis

Maintaining long-term sobriety may be a challenge, even in the best of circumstances. Those early in the recovery process are likely the most vulnerable. But it is important to remember that people in recovery are survivors who have lived through some trying times. Providing encouragement and support may help a loved one to stay on the path to recovery in spite of added challenges.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Stay in close contact either in-person or by phone or video chat. Maintain the connection with regular conversations to help them stay grounded and help this time feel more like everyday life.
  • Create a schedule to promote positive behaviors, avoid boredom, and prevent negative emotions from taking control.
  • Focus on the positive. Acknowledge feelings and talk about them, then steer the conversation to emphasize the positives, the things for which we are grateful.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of exercise as a powerful intervention to strengthen the body, heal the brain, and soothe the spirit.
  • Contact helping professionals for sound advice from addiction medicine specialists who can also connect you with a trusted addiction treatment center that will provide the level of care needed to help in the recovery process through their addiction treatment programs.

People with substance use disorders need our support in more ways than we realize. Being in tune with their needs can help them shore up their resilience to get past the challenges and adhere to their recovery goals.

Expanding Our Potential to Build Connections in Recovery

A positive to emerge from the international COVID-19 challenge has been greater virtual connections overall. That includes expanding virtual addiction response programs around the country, which has increased both access and the spectrum of resources available. No longer are we limited to inpatient programs or outpatient treatment programs at a treatment facility that is within driving distance; now, more than ever, we can take advantage of programs with a unique or innovative focus on addiction recovery. If a program resonates with you or your family member, now is the time to get involved.

Telemedicine allows us access to quality healthcare services from a distance. Opening up a world of physical and mental health services, it allows us to connect with providers in remote locations. It can give us access to medical professionals like physicians, mental health professionals like therapists, and social workers who can provide diagnostic services and treatment interventions. Teleconferencing allows virtual meetings that incorporate evidence-based therapies, such as behavioral therapies, in your treatment plan all from the comfort and security of your home. Using your computer or smartphone camera for a video chat can cut through the isolation and bring face-to-face communication into focus. This works equally well for a two-person dialogue or a larger group gathering.

Isolation may set us apart, but you can help to ensure that this does not complicate matters for friends and family members in recovery during difficult times. Making an extra effort to stay connected during periods of individual or widespread challenge can make a tremendous difference. And tapping into meaningful addiction medicine resources yourself will ensure that you provide a strong support network that can help your loved ones meet the challenges of social isolation and addiction and emerge stronger.

For resources to help you support friends and relatives struggling to maintain sobriety amid the combined challenges of social isolation and addiction, check out the programs at New Choices Treatment Centers. We have remained open for those needing detox stabilization and residential care even during uncertain times. We have also expanded our outpatient outreach, capitalizing on the benefits of virtual communications to provide diagnostic appointments, evidence-based therapies, family therapy and counseling, and group meetings online. Contact us to get more information, or call (726) 888-7003 to set up an appointment.