In a time where social distancing and being homebound is at the forefront, how do individuals recovering from addictions stay sober during COVID-19.  When isolation, via physically and/or socially, is among the hallmarks of active addiction, being told to be intentional about these behaviors could feel very scary especially for folks in early recovery.   This article will provide tips and resources with how to stay sober during the coronavirus pandemic. 

     When it comes to being triggered by addiction, there are some stresses that are generally more common for folks than other ones that are more individualized.  For example, being around others who are in active addiction, being exposed to familiar addiction-associated things such as hearing certain music or being exposed to certain objects that you associate with your addiction, make up some of the general triggers.  Some of the more individualized triggers tend to me more internal such as experiencing certain emotional states, social isolation, and other relational interactions.  When we are asked to stay at home, some may find solace in this, but if you are still exposed to people who are in active addiction (in your family or roommates), have access to objects that remind you of your addiction or have other interactional triggers?  Having feelings of anxiety, depression, cabin-fever, and isolation can also be challenging.  It is these factors that could make being quarantined at home more difficult in staying sober during COVID-19.

     Although you may be “stuck at home” during this difficult time, it is important to carve out the personal space needed to take care of your sobriety.  This could mean finding a private space in your family home to work on your recovery without interruption, or if you live by yourself, to  structure your schedule in such a way to allow time for reaching out to others in the program, doing written twelve step work, or even meditating.  Just because you are mainly staying home does not mean your sobriety is less of a priority. In fact, staying sober needs to be a higher priority.  COVID-19 has created many more obstacles: job loss, financial problems, hunger,  mental health effects of isolation, grief from loss of loved ones, fear, anxiety and the struggles of home schooling children. Staying sober during COVID-19 requires even more attention and support than normal.  Adding additional support is a critical step that you can take so that when this crisis is over, you can return to regular sober routines without the added stresses that come with a potential relapse. Below are several things you can do at home to stay sober during COVID-19:

      Teletherapy.  It is easy to look up any therapist and talk to them, However, for those living in Pennsylvania, having access to a professional therapist that also specializes in the issues you may be experiencing from the comfort of your own home, is an amazing opportunity to get support and continue to develop yourself.  The Center for Growth, Inc. is continuing to do telehealth sessions, including virtual support groups, with professionals who specialize in specific areas, such as addictions.  For example, if you are struggling with sexually compulsive behavior and live anywhere in Pennsylvania, we offer a virtual support group for men who are sexually addicted that you can find out more about here. We also have professionals that specialize in other addictions to help you stay sober during this coronavirus pandemic.

     Teletherapy can be in the form of individual or couples sessions depending on your personal goals and can serve many purposes when it comes to staying sober during COVID-19. First, it is helpful to have professional guidance in working through specific triggers and feelings that could put your sobriety at risk.  Second, a therapist can help hold you accountable to sticking with your recovery goals and/or assist you in developing new ones.  Third, maintaining your personal growth through therapy while in quarantine, can help prepare you emotionally for the stresses that may occur when things get back to “normal” again. Lastly, it is helpful to have a therapist to talk with to help with secondary issues such as relationship conflicts, possible unemployment conflicts, and even interpersonal intimacies aside from just issues pertaining to staying sober. 

Twelve-Step Meetings.  Most in-person twelve step meetings have been suspended during the coronavirus outbreak.  However, a lot of the meetings are still going on virtually.  Twelve Step meetings are a great vehicle for sober support.  There are many different Twelve Step meetings and they each have multiple benefits that can help you stay sober during the coronavirus pandemic. One such recovery tool is the utilization of a sponsor.  Especially during these times with a lot of social isolation, a sponsor is another person in recovery with more sober time that can serve as a “mentor” to help you work the twelve steps.  A sponsor also serves as an emotional support and outside source of accountability that you can speak to on a regular basis.  Some people are shy about asking for help, but if it will help you stay sober and reduce your relapse risk, it will be worth it to you!

     Connect with the recovery lifestyle online.  Aside from standard reading materials like books and magazines, there is a host of interesting blogs online about addiction and recovery.  Some common websites to check out include intherooms.com, thefix.com, and nofap.com.  There are not only interesting articles to read, but you can also leave comments and feel more a part of the online community.  There are also many apps and podcasts to check out that address recovery lifestyle issues.

     Journal writing.  If you find yourself getting lost in your head with either fantasy, cravings, or both, you can take time to jot down your feelings that may precede these experiences.  You can be as vague or detailed as you feel you need because the hope is that only you will see what you write.  This activity is especially helpful in identifying trends that could potentially lead to relapse.  For example, if you are having frequent conflicts with a family member who is getting on your nerves, and this person led you to act out on your addiction in the past, journal writing is a good way to help yourself stay centered on your feelings instead of being too focused on the other person. In addition, due to staying at home a lot, you may find yourself binging on eating sweets, sleeping too long, or feeling agitated over having to motivate yourself to get responsibilities completed.  By keeping a written record of your feelings in regard to these stresses, you may find yourself in a clearer headspace to begin taking more initiative in changing your behavior.  All of this will help you stay sober during COVID-19 and be less apathetic once the pandemic is past us.  Lastly, Journal writing is also recommended as a way of getting feelings out (and on paper) when other people are not available to talk to.

     Stay socially connected.  Even though you may be home by yourself and adhering to the social distancing, does not mean you have to be socially withdrawn.  Making supportive phone calls to others in recovery is one of the most notable coping strategies for staying sober. Now with the COVID-19 restrictions, this tool is even more useful.  Aside from the standard phone call, you can also text, video chat, and exchange messages on social media to remain connected to others.  These exchanges do not necessarily have to rely on emotional content to be productive, but to also allow for fellowshipping socially with your friends from meetings since you are not seeing them in person.  If you live by yourself, some suggestions to stay socially connected is to stay with another person or family member, provided you are both at low risk, temporarily until the stay-at-home restrictions are alleviated.  If that is not possible, arranging for a regular walk (with masks and social distancing) or a daily phone conversation can also be useful. 

For some that have very little going on to talk about, here are some examples of topics that you can use to help structure a conversation with either a friend, family member, or someone in recovery:

  • Share about what you did last night or this morning
  • Talk about any thoughts, feelings, or cravings that could make you want to act out on your addiction
  • Tell a story about you feel or personally relate to something you heard on the news
  • Talk about any new hobbies or activities you are doing with your time
  • Give an update on what you are doing with work or to find work
  • Tell the person 5 positive thoughts you had today and ask them to share the same with you
  • Engage in a new activity such as cooking something different, a certain type of exercise, or even something social you discovered online like going to a virtual museum and talking about that

Think of this time as an opportunity to re-evaluate your personal and professional goals and ways to achieve them.  Most importantly, tell people about it!

     Reorganize your life.  Staying sober during COVID-19 and having to stay home, gives you an opportunity to do things that you would normally not have time to do.  For example, cleaning out closets, organizing paperwork, connecting with old friends and family, and even contemplating how you want to reorganize the way you do things.  For example, you can make plans for how to manage your time better or accomplish certain tasks.  This may be a great time to remove alcohol, drug paraphernalia or porn from your home.  Perhaps invest in a porn blocker for your devices if that is something you struggle with.   

            Staying sober during COVID-19 has just as much to do with your behavior as well as your attitude.  This is an opportunity to do some real self-reflection to prepare yourself for how you may want to do things differently, either with your sobriety and/or your life, once the freedom is there again to take on the world in the way you want to!

            To set up video conferencing therapy sessions, please call (215) 922-LOVE or schedule an appointment directly online through our website www.therapyinphiladelphia.com/contact