April 8, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Ramon Solhkhah, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.
By Phil Hartman
The completely normal feeling of heightened anxiety brought about by the spread of COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) can manifest itself in a variety of harmful behaviors, not least among them the increased use of drugs and alcohol. Already there is evidence that alcohol sales are rapidly on the rise, up more than 60 percent in one national study conducted in mid-March, and experts believe the same is likely true for medications one can get at their local pharmacy or find at home in their medicine cabinet.
Addiction experts from Hackensack Meridian Health offer the following guidance for anyone to better manage the pressures associated with coronavirus that might lead to the abuse of drugs or alcohol.
1. Stay physically isolated but not emotionally distant
Social distancing remains the key to limiting virus spread but it should not happen at the expense of erasing one’s social connections and supports. When physical proximity is impossible seek others through virtual or digital means. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous offer online meetings.
Continue to attend 12-step programs, considered to be an effective way of maintaining sobriety.
If you have a sponsor, make it a point to check in regularly by phone or text. These connections serve as a reminder that people are not alone, others are still there to help, and we can take care of each other.
Remember: If you are an addict, you need to talk about it and be listened to by others.
2. Ease the mind with relaxation techniques
Life is stressful enough without the added emotional burden of contending with COVID-19, especially for anyone with a substance abuse issue who also suffers from a behavioral challenge such as depression.
In stressful times we turn to old ways of coping. For addicts, that means a potential relapse. Those with an addictive history need to come up with alternative ways to deal with stress. Some tactics – and good ways to relax – might include:
- A walk in nature
- Listening to music
- Slow, mindful breathing
- Sufficient sleep
- Eating foods rich in anxiety-reducing nutrients. Choose leafy greens or whole grains for magnesium, cashews or egg yolks for zinc, salmon for omega-3 fatty acids and avocados for B vitamins.
3. Battling boredom
With isolation can come boredom and the temptation to turn to old, harmful ways. The techniques for relieving stress are useful for filling time, another means of avoiding relapse through purposeful activity.
4. Urges don’t last long – distract yourself until they pass
Cravings pass in a short amount of time – usually minutes to a half-hour at most – so distract yourself.
Read a book. Play a game. Call a friend or family. Do something to erase the thought. It will pass.
5. It often helps to keep the faith
There is a spiritual side to remaining sober for many individuals who struggle with substance abuse. It often helps to reach out to local religious institutions for counseling and comfort in stressful times.
6. If you do relapse, seek immediate help
Next Steps & Resources:
- Find Behavioral Health Resources at Hackensack Meridian Health
- AA Online Intergroup
- 12 Step Group Online Meetings
- In The Rooms Recovery Community
- Clinical Contributor: Ramon Solhkhah, MD
- Clinical Contributor: Steven Drzewoszewski, MSW, LCADC, LCSW, CCS, Director, Blake Recovery Center at Hackensack Meridian Carrier Clinic
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.