Addiction and isolation can be a dangerous combination.

Those who struggle with addiction are often skilled at isolating themselves as a way to hide their substance use.  Addiction recovery programs warn patients against isolation, encouraging them to remain connected to sober supports and to those offering help because we know how critical it is to recovery.

But what happens when we are now required to self-quarantine and practice social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our world may be changing, but addiction is not. It is still a serious, often life-threatening disease that requires treatment even in the midst of these unprecedented times. In fact, with added levels of anxiety and stress due to financial concerns, supply shortages and disruptions to daily routines, it is more important than ever to continue addiction treatment plans.

Increased risks

COVID-19 can present an increased risk of complications for those battling addictions. Along with the greater physical risk for people with preexisting conditions, the stress surrounding the virus can lead to increased substance use to cope with feelings of anxiety, which can lead to relapse (learn more about addiction recovery and not giving up) and even overdose.

Additionally, people age 60 and older and those with chronic diseases are at higher risk for COVID-19. Many patients in recovery are dealing with chronic conditions such as heart, kidney and liver disease as well (learn more about supporting loved ones in recovery during COVID-19).

Alternate means

As our society tries to find a new normal, alternative ways to support recovery are being implemented.

In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, face-to-face meetings are becoming more difficult. Telemedicine is increasingly becoming a safe and secure way to receive addiction treatment and counseling. For those with a smart phone and an internet connection, many health care providers and support groups are just a call away.

The federal government has also made it easier to administer virtual care and limit trips to clinics for doses of opioid addiction medications like methadone and buprenorphine. Patients on methadone once requiring daily clinic visits to receive their medication can be given 2-4 weeks of doses to take home, depending on their individual condition. Buprenorphine previously required in-person evaluations for new patients before they could be given a prescription. Now these consultations can be done online using telemedicine.

Ways to cope

If you are struggling with how to continue your addiction treatment, there are ways to cope and ensure you receive the care you need, including:

  • Talk to your addiction treatment providers and counselors. If an in-person visit isn’t possible, call to ask what virtual options are available and how you can receive your medications.
  • Keep the lines of communications open among family and friends. Do not be afraid to talk about your feelings with those who know and love you. Stay in touch using technology like FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts.
  • Be good to yourself. Make time for simple things you enjoy, like reading or listening to music. Try mindfulness practices like meditation and breathing techniques to reduce stress. And be sure to eat healthy foods, get plenty of rest and exercise.
  • Take a news break. Stories about the global health crisis can become overwhelming and upsetting. It’s important to be informed, but limit the time you are exposed to watching or reading the news and using social media.
  • Find a virtual support group. There are several free, online support groups to help you deal with these challenging times. See the National Association of Mental Illness HelpLine Coronavirus Information and Resources Guide for a complete listing of virtual groups.

Even with uncertainties around the COVID-19 outbreak, treatment and recovery are possible and should remain a priority. If you are feeling challenged in continuing your addiction treatment, please call a CleanSlate location near you. We will work with you to ensure you receive the personal and compassionate level of care you need and deserve. Visit the CleanSlate COVID-19 webpage for up-to-date information and tools.

Tracey Cohen M.D.

Dr. Cohen, Chief Clinical Officer of CleanSlate, is responsible for the clinical and quality oversight of CleanSlate’s services as well as continuous improvement and development of CleanSlate’s model of care. A part-time clinical provider at CleanSlate since 2010, Dr. Cohen joined the CleanSlate leadership team full-time in the summer of 2018, bringing over seventeen years’ experience of leadership in direct care, managed care, and public policy. Board certified in Addiction Medicine and Family Medicine, Dr. Cohen is widely recognized as a leader in substance use disorder care, health care integration, primary care, and chronic pain management. In her previous roles as Medical Director of Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island and as Medical Director of Behavioral Health and Quality at BCBS Rhode Island, Dr. Cohen led initiatives that expanded access to addiction treatment across the state and served as regional and national models. Dr. Cohen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Barnard College and a Doctorate in Medicine from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine where she was one of the six inaugural Twenty-First Century Scholars.