Staying Safe and Sober During an Extended Pandemic
When the worldwide coronavirus pandemic began and states started enforcing quarantine, it seemed like it might be over within a month or two. Now, six months later, the end is still shrouded in uncertainty. For anyone in recovery, this extended situation proves to be a major problem. Resisting the urge to relapse is always a struggle, but now more than ever. Rely on your social network, get back into treatment if necessary, find distractions, and use your recovery tools to manage and avoid relapse.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but for those in recovery the stress, depression, and just plain boredom can put extra strain on the will to stay sober. While the early months of quarantine were new and frightening, these extended months of uncertainty and social distancing may feel endless and even hopeless.
If you or a loved one is in recovery, this time is especially tough. Facing difficult emotions, feeling bored, being unable to access the usual social support—all of these can contribute to a major risk of relapse. This doesn’t mean relapse is inevitable, though. Take steps to be proactive about your sobriety and resist the urge to cope with a scary, uncertain future by drinking.
“The Pandemic Makes Everyone Want to Drink”
It’s been the leading joke about quarantining that alcohol sales have spiked and people are facing the worldwide pandemic drunk. This is a joke for some people, but for those in recovery, it’s extremely serious.
To maintain sobriety and resist the urge to relapse, first know the triggers. If you understand the specific nature of what makes you want to drink again, you can plan ways to fight them. Everyone is different, but there are some common elements of the interminably long pandemic that most people are experiencing:
- Fear and uncertainty
- Stress and anxiety
- Working from home with kids
- Losing a job
- Difficulties in relationships
These tough situations and emotions have caused many people to drink more than they normally would. If you are in recovery, though, your urge to drink carries extra weight and consequences. There are productive ways to stay sober, even as the pandemic goes on and on.
Socialize in Any Way You Can
Isolation has been one of the worst aspects of the pandemic. Families have been separated from loved ones in nursing homes; grandparents can’t visit with their grandchildren; and individuals in recovery have been unable to go to meetings.
For someone struggling to stay sober, isolation from others may be the most damaging aspect of an extended pandemic. Tolerating social isolation for a couple of months is one thing, but to continue to be restricted for six months and more is a real problem.
To combat the loneliness that makes you want to drink, reach out and socialize in any way possible. Have Zoom meetings with family and friends; participate in support group meetings online; talk to your therapist virtually; spend time outside with friends whenever you can. Even something as simple as talking on the phone with a friend can help you resist the urge to drink.
Work on Your Relationships
The pandemic has isolated you from many people, but if you live with family or a roommate, there is another extreme: spending too much time with someone. This situation has put a strain on many relationships.
If you have a partner or family member you live with and the relationship is adding stress to your life, address it. Talk about what you need, about boundaries, time alone, and maybe even relationship counseling. Work together to strengthen your relationship so that you can go through the pandemic supporting each other rather than adding to the distress and worry.
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Take up Mindfulness and Meditation
The uncertainty and misinformation at the beginning of the pandemic triggered a lot of fear and panic. Now, months into the global crisis, some things are more certain, but what we still don’t know is when it will all end. When will life go back to normal, if ever?
You can manage the fear and anxiety that inevitably comes with this uncertainty, even if you cannot eliminate it entirely. Mindfulness practices like meditation are powerful tools for keeping difficult emotions from overwhelming you.
Regular meditation is proven to reduce anxiety and stress. You can also use a quick meditation to quell bad feelings in the moment. When fear or anxiety threaten to climb and you feel the urge to drink, take five minutes to focus on the present, on physical sensations, and on your breaths. Meditation is particularly useful during an ongoing pandemic because it forces you to stay in the moment and avoid dwelling on the fears for the future.
Sometimes a simple distraction is all you need to combat an urge to drink. It could be a movie, a talk with a friend on the phone, a walk around the block, or a play session with your dog. But for something as ongoing as this extended pandemic, you may need distractions with more staying power.
This is a great time to find a hobby or activity that requires concentration and dedicated effort. If you haven’t had a hobby in a while, think back to your childhood. What did you enjoy doing? Maybe it was playing soccer or sewing or coloring.
Learning a new hobby or practicing an old activity is a great way to distract the mind and to fill your downtime with something productive and enjoyable. Hobbies distract and they also combat the boredom that causes many people to turn to drinking. Even chores and projects make for good distractions. Tackle those home projects you’ve been putting off for too long.
Get Outside and Be Active
It’s easy to turn to streaming services and binge-watching to get through the pandemic, but a more powerful tool for easing anxiety and stress is fresh air with exercise. Physical activity is a proven mood booster, but it is even more powerful for good mental health when practiced outside. Being in nature is an antidote to depression and other negative moods.
It doesn’t take much to get the benefits of exercise and nature. A walk around the block or to a local park is adequate. The more time you can spend outside, getting fresh air and exercise, the better you’ll feel mentally and physically. And when you feel better, you will be less likely to turn to alcohol.
Go Back for Treatment if Necessary
Going back to a residential treatment program for a substance use disorder is not a failure. Think of it as a tune-up. If the urge to drink becomes overwhelming, or if you do relapse, you need more professional support. Small treatment centers can keep you safe during the pandemic with social distancing rules in place.
It’s also important to take a serious look at your mental health during this time. Co-occurring disorders, substance use disorder with mental illness, are common. This difficult time may also trigger a mental illness you have not previously struggled with, like depression. If your anxiety, sadness, or other tough emotions have become unmanageable, consider treatment for a recovery tune-up but also for a mental health check. You may get a diagnosis that surprises you, but treatment will help.
The boost you get from going through treatment again could mean the difference between relapsing and staying strong in sobriety. Do what it takes to stay sober, whether that means staying home and relying on a fun new hobby or going back for treatment. The pandemic may carry on for months more, and some things may never go back to normal. It’s time to adjust and adapt to keep recovery on track.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders.
Contact us today to start the journey toward lasting recovery.