Addiction in Lockdown

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Living with an addiction was already a day-to-day thing. But you relied on your support groups. And now they are shut down due to the pandemic. Treatment you rely on is no longer there.

How can you manage your addiction during Covid-19?

1. Be as honest as possible with those you are in self-isolation with.

Don’t want your family to know how much you are struggling with cravings again? Or how lost you feel without the hugs and in-person vibe of your weekly meetings?

Now is not the time to let shame win. Trying to hide any struggle will just add stress and tension to your life, the main triggers for a relapse. Or mean you take things out on those around you, right when you need their support.

Of all the times that others will be understanding of struggle, a global pandemic where we are all feeling lost at sea might be it. Don’t assume others will judge. Give them the opportunity to exceed your expectations.

2. Don’t make exceptions or excuses because ‘it's the end of the world’.

We all know one ‘exception’ is all it takes to undo years of work at managing addictions. And it’s not the end of the world. It’s a big hit to the things we took for granted, but not the end. (If all your thoughts are veering toward doom and gloom, learn how to spot cognitive distortions.)

3. Use your tools.

You know. All those things you learned in rehab or addiction treatment. Cognitive behavioural therapy tools like balanced thinking and thought charts. Or dialectical behaviour therapy tools like mindfulness, emotional regulation, and stepping back. And twelve-step tools like handing it over, having faith, and connecting with your higher power. If there was ever a time to dust off your toolkit it's now.

4. Up your support.

Again, stress is the key factor for relapse. So whatever your recovery treatments and activities are, stick to them. And if possible find more support than before.

Yes, this means embracing virtual meetings. Even if you hate technology, or they ‘don’t feel the same’ as in-person support. If they feel less powerful, then try to attend more meetings, or ask your counsellor if you can have extra sessions.

5. But lower your inner critic.

Don’t beat yourself up for needing more support. Addictions are addictions because they help us hide from difficult emotions. We are in difficult times. There will be a lot of difficult emotions. It’s to be expected that addictions will flare now.

Counter the critic by reminding yourself of all the inner resources that you have that have gotten you here. Your resilience, your humour, your faith. If you can navigate addiction, you can navigate a pandemic. You are bigger than the little voices in your head.

6. Find new ways to create what worked for you about in-person meetings.

If you miss the hugs, that’s a hard one. But do what you can with things like visualisation, as well as exercise, which keeps you connected to your own body and can lower stress.

If it was service, don’t think that now you can’t make the tea there is nothing you can do. Call an elderly neighbour to see they are okay, or volunteer to sew masks at home for others (and keep busy at the same time, we all know how useful that is in the face of cravings).

A study on female athletes at the University of Missouri found that those who volunteered in their community and engaged in 'helping behaviours' were less likely to engage in substance abuse.

7. Avoid people who make it worse.

Sure, lockdown takes away certain temptations, like going by the pub or visiting a dealer.

But it's also a time when many people are bored. And that means people you thought you'd long put behind you might try to contact you. You know the ones.

The guy who even five minutes of chat with convinces you using isn't a big deal. The girl who lowers your esteem so fast you want to obliterate yourself. Or the family member who reminds you of all your mistakes and that you cut out for a reason.

You do not have to respond to people. Even now, in the middle of a pandemic. You don't owe them anything. But you owe yourself a chance. To keep going. To be healthy. Remember that.

8. Start a wellbeing tally.

Write a list of what your wellbeing activities are— talking to your best friend? Dancing to your favourite song? Mindfulness meditation? Whistling out all the songs from the Sound of Music? (It doesn’t have to be what makes others feel good, just what makes you feel good).

Write out a list and post it on the fridge then keep a running tally of how much you do each thing, aiming to tick off at least three a day. If you have a competitive streak, see if someone else wants to do this with you.

9. Keep up the gratitude.

Gratitude can be the first thing to go in tough times. Why bother when we are watching thousands die in the news, many of us are losing our income, and we are trapped in our homes? But now is the time gratitude is more important than ever.

Remember that gratitude is not about being big or original. It can be as tiny as being grateful for your cup of tea.

And gratitude shared grows in power. Let those around you know what you are grateful for.

What if my addiction (or that of my loved one) is not under control?

Trying to go cold turkey without supervision and medical support can be dangerous. Alcohol withdrawal, for example, if someone is alcohol dependent, can lead to things like epileptic seizures.

Don’t assume there is now no support or treatment available. Even in lockdown there are essential services. Call support lines and charities helping addicts and their families to know your options. (Refer to Mind UK's extensive list of addiction charities and support.)

If you are using replacement meds, have a conversation with your healthcare provider on ways to keep you both safe. And ask your prescriber if there is a backup prescriber should he or she become ill and/or shutdown, so you know who to contact should this happen.

And remember…

Remember that this too will end. Addiction recovery means taking life moment by moment. Use that skill you have developed to get you through this difficult time.

Time to go back to counselling for addictions? And talk to someone who get it? We offer talk therapy for all budgets, and over the internet. Find your perfect therapist now.

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