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The Impact of COVID-19 on the Addiction Recovery Community

— December 23, 2020

The recovery community has come together during this time to offer unconditional support via online meetings. With meetings held around the clock, you can find support whenever and wherever you need it.

As 2020 comes to an end, the devastating social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are becoming more and more evident. With rates of anxiety, depression, and stress on the rise, one group that has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is the addiction recovery community. 

People in recovery often rely on their support groups and recovery meetings to gain support, help others, and stay sober. For many people, attendance and participation in these meetings can mean the difference between life and death. Not going to meetings is usually a sign of relapse, and although these meetings have turned online, many people are still struggling with the impacts of lockdowns and social distancing. 

Between the isolation people feel from their peers, the anxiety they feel about the future, and the heavy weight of the news headlines reading, “Four of the deadliest days in US history happened last week,” coping with 2020 hasn’t been easy by any means. Among the recovery community, in particular, the pandemic has led to increased rates of relapse and overdoses nationwide. Let’s take a deeper look into how COVID-19 has impacted the lives of people in recovery.

Increased Rates of Anxiety and Depression Were Felt Across the Nation

Stress, fear, and worry are completely normal responses to a global pandemic. Since COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S. in early 2020, people of all walks of life reported that their mental health was adversely affected by anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health issues. Although a study conducted by the CDC found that older adults have been found to be more resilient to the effects of anxiety and stress during the pandemic, many of them are susceptible to added loneliness during this time. On the other hand, 49.1% of interviewed patients aged 18-24 reported anxiety and 52.3% reported depression – numbers that are significantly higher than in recent years. 

Anxiety and depression were felt even stronger in teens. One study that looked at student-athletes and mental health during COVID-19 found that 65% reported anxiety symptoms and 68% reported depression symptoms. Overall, approximately 50% of Americans have reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.

Sad woman in bed holding coffee mug with her head on her knees; image by Asdrubal luna, via Unsplash.
Sad woman in bed holding coffee mug with her head on her knees; image by Asdrubal luna, via Unsplash.

Between general fear of disease, social-distancing guidelines, business and school closures, and the grief and loss the nation has felt as a whole, it’s easy to see why rates of depression and anxiety are so high. Oftentimes, people will use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression. At the same time, dealing with prolonged mental health issues in recovery can be difficult – it can even trigger cravings or lead to relapse. Young or old, anyone who is in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction must take care of their mental health if they want to avoid relapse. With mental health issues on the rise, people in recovery may be more susceptible to relapse – and current drug users may ramp up their drug use, increasing their risk of overdose.

Drug Overdoses Skyrocketed as COVID-19 Sparked Relapses Among People in Recovery

While it will take more time to fully understand the impact of COVID-19 on drug overdose deaths, early data shows an increase in drug overdoses corresponding with lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and increases in COVID-19 cases. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a surveillance tool developed to track overdose deaths called the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) found that 62% of participating counties nationwide experienced an increase in overdose reports in the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019. 

The program also found that overall overdose reports increased by as much as 11.4% for fatal overdoses and 18% for nonfatal overdoses shortly after the first stay-at-home orders were set in place in early March 2020. Preliminary data from ODMAP demonstrates that, although overall drug abuse was slightly slower during the pandemic than in previous years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people abusing dangerous, non-prescription medications, such as fentanyl and heroin. The ways in which COVID-19, isolation, and struggles with mental health affect the lives of people in recovery in combination with the increase in fentanyl and heroin use makes it clear why there has been an increase in drug overdoses in 2020.

Recovery Support Groups Turned to Online Communities

Although the isolation and stress surrounding COVID-19 presented huge challenges to people in recovery, these individuals have been able to utilize technology and social media platforms to continue supporting one another in sobriety. Mid-March, as regional lockdowns began taking place, many of the schools, churches, and community centers at which 12-Step meetings were held had to close down or limit the number of people allowed inside, most recovery support groups turned to online platforms like Zoom for virtual meetings. 

Support groups like SMART Recovery have had online support platforms for several years. However, 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are the most popular recovery support group – and they have always relied primarily on in-person meetings. Being a fairly new idea, there is limited data available about the efficacy of online support group programs. That being said, experts suggest that the risk-to-benefit ratio of hosting online meetings versus in-person meetings during COVID-19 is favorable. And, since telemedicine is proving to be an effective alternative to in-person addiction treatment, online support groups may be just as effective, as well.

Like the in-person meetings, online 12-step and SMART meetings are free to attend as they operate on a donation-only basis. While it may not feel the same as sitting face to face with sober support, online meetings are the safest and best way to stay connected and sober while social-distancing.

Finding Support in Recovery During COVID-19

2020 hasn’t been easy for most people and if you’re struggling with addiction or having a hard time staying sober, you’re not alone. Fortunately, the entire recovery community has come together during this time to offer unconditional support via online meetings. With meetings held around the clock, you can find support whenever and wherever you need it. To find a support meeting or gain support for your addiction, visit the following free online resources:

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