Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis may exacerbate another epidemic: addiction. We are likely to see a rise in relapses. Already in late March, alcohol sales increased by 55%.
COVID-19 thrives in public spaces, but addiction thrives in isolation. People are disconnected from their usual support systems. They may be dealing with exacerbated anxiety or depression. Especially if someone is isolated alone, they may be more likely to rationalize a relapse. They might feel hopeless without the same kind of connection and support.
Someone with a Substance Use Disorder living alone is stuck in a brain chemically altered to crave the substance, without anyone around to remind them why they are sober. If someone relapses alone, they are more likely to die of an overdose.
For some, it may also be easier to justify a relapse when the world feels so apocalyptic. Steven, who is on Suboxone to treat an opioid addiction, said, “It’s difficult to get yourself out of this mindset of thinking the world is going to hell, and I might as well make myself feel good.”
I’ll be five years sober on August 1st. If I’m perfectly honest, I’ve had more troubling thoughts about substances during this time than I have since the first few months of sobriety. But I trust that I’m not going to relapse, because I rely heavily on all of the coping skills I’ve learned. And most importantly, I have a healthy fear of relapsing. If I do, things will get much worse.
Most people also know that if they start drinking or using again, things will get worse. But it’s hard to feel that emotionally when numbing out can seem like the best option right now. When thoughts of relapse arise, I’ve found it helpful to keep reminding myself how much worse it would get. It’s a global pandemic; no one wants things to be any harder than they already are. And drinking or using would make things unimaginably harder.
If you are worried you won’t be able to convince yourself of this in a moment of crisis, tell a supportive person in your life to be ready to remind you. Then call them when you are struggling. Another thing I’ve found helpful is putting space between myself and the thought.
I do this in a couple of ways. For one, I take a page from meditation’s playbook and think “This is not me. This is just a thought.” That can help rid you of the toxic idea that you’re bound to “screw up” and might as well get it over with. It’s just a thought, like the thousands of others you have a day. And like the others, it’ll pass.
Which brings me to the second thing: if I have a thought like that, I try not to entertain it. I go for a walk, find something else to do, or sometimes even just step into another room. I’ve found that as the crisis goes on, and I keep employing these coping skills, the troubling thoughts get quieter. I have them less often.
Like with anything else in sobriety, as the cliché goes, practice makes perfect. When this started, pretty much none of us knew how to maintain our sobriety through a pandemic. But we’re learning.
It can be hard to remember that the pandemic won’t last forever. It might be difficult to balance the feeling that we are existing now to get to some unknown time in the future when we won’t be in a pandemic, and the “take it day by day” recovery mantra. But I think there’s a way to take each day as it comes—and try to fill those days with things we enjoy—while keeping in the back of our minds that this is temporary. And when the time comes that we’ve made it through a pandemic sober, we will have a lot to be proud of.
That said, if you have relapsed or are struggling with thoughts of relapse, there is nothing to be ashamed of. It is okay to ask for help. TruHealing Centers is open and here for you during this crisis. We are using third-party, hospital-grade sanitation to make sure our facilities are safe for those who need treatment during this time. At our recovery centers across the country, we will help you build the tools to thrive in long-term recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.