Tips for Overcoming Thoughts of Relapse During Times of Coronavirus
By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited: November 17, 2020 | 4 Sources
Coping with Social Distancing and Isolation while in Recovery
Addiction is a common disease in the United States. In 2018, there were around 20.3 million people with a substance use disorder (SUD). Of those, approximately 1.4% (3.7 million people), received substance use treatment, with .9% (2.4 million people) getting substance use treatment at a specialty facility.
While 3.7 million people began their journey toward recovery in 2018, their work did not end after completing their rehab program. Rather, substance use treatment is only the first step on the lifelong journey toward sobriety. This path can include stumbles and pitfalls, especially when it comes relapse. In fact, of those who have gone through treatment, 40-60% unfortunately relapse.
In these unprecedented times, when anxiety, fear, and isolation have become major players in our lives as COVID-19 sweeps the world, it becomes even more imperative that you find the practices that will help you successfully avoid relapse.
Difference between Pandemic vs. Epidemic:
While an epidemic involves an escalation of the number of cases of a disease past what is typically expected in a geographical area, a pandemic occurs when a disease spreads across many countries and effects many people.
What Is COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019)?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is contagious and can be spread from close contact with an infected person, specifically from their respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets can be spread through sneezing and coughing. Those who have been in close contact with someone who has the disease have a greater chance contracting infection. A person may not have symptoms of COVID-19 despite being a carrier of the virus.
Social distancing, self-quarantine, isolation:
Social distancing reduces the amount of close contact people have with others. Staying away from people improves your chances of infections such as coronavirus. Self-quarantine, is the act of removing yourself from contact with others to protect yourself and your community. Social distancing can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation as contact with others decreases. Isolation can have great impact on individuals’ physical and mental health.
Signs of Relapse
Recognizing the warning signs of relapse provides the best opportunity to avoid it. Signs of potential relapse include the following:
- Increasing stress levels. Regular, everyday life can be stressful. Combining that with the stressors that arise during this pandemic, such as money, childcare, employment, and health can become overwhelming.
- Denial. Refusing to admit there is anything to be concerned about increases the likelihood that a relapse will occur because the individual is not accepting the current situation and being proactive about it.
- Attitude change. Changes in attitude, including abandoning recovery efforts, and sudden feelings of loneliness or depression may all be signs that you are heading toward a relapse.
- Romanticizing past drug use. Remembering the good times of substance use can be easy, but it is important to keep in mind that there were consequences to using and that you stopped using for a reason.
- Isolation from your support system. Falling out of touch and neglecting relationships with your family, friends, members of support groups and sponsors could be a sign that something is wrong. Addiction thrives on isolation.
- Believing you can use again without it being a risk. The idea that you are able to have “just one,” and that you are able to control your substance use, poses a tremendous threat to your continued recovery.
- Loss of dedication to recovery program. A rapid change in how you view your recovery program may lead to a quick move toward using again, as belief and confidence in the program helps you stay sober.
If you are noticing changes in yourself, in everything from dropping hobbies to feeling down and sad all the time, pay attention to those changes and have a strategy in place for how you can deal with those changes so you don’t risk relapse.
Tips for Avoiding Relapse
There are various tactics for taking care of yourself and setting yourself up for success when it comes to your recovery. These strategies are even more important as we face stress, anxiety, social distancing, and isolation in the coming days ahead. With the pandemic impacting our way of life, strategies for avoiding relapse include the following:
- Talk to others about your feelings. Sharing how you are feeling (afraid, unsure, anxious, lonely, depressed) provides you with both the opportunity to get those feelings out (keeping them to yourself only gives them more power) and the chance to have others aware of what you are dealing with. You may also receive feedback that others are experiencing similar feelings which too can decrease the feelings of isolation. When you are sharing, be completely honest—with others and with yourself.
- Don’t feel guilty for your feelings. In the best of times, you need to be kind to yourself when it comes to how you are feeling. With a global pandemic wreaking havoc on your life, it is even more imperative that you cut yourself slack when it comes to relapse feelings and triggers. Feeling tempted to use during periods of high stress, anxiety, and loneliness is very common. Be aware of any signs of relapse thoughts, but do not punish yourself for having those thoughts. Addressing these thoughts in a healthy way can help stop them from turning into behaviors.
- Learn new coping strategies. Dealing with stress, anxiety, and fear in a positive way is so important if you want to remain sober. Learning stress management and relaxation techniques may help you avoid the temptation of returning to alcohol or drugs during stressful times. Breathing techniques, yoga, systematic relaxation, progressive muscle relaxation, grounding skills and mediation are all techniques that may help.
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- Practice self-care. Take the time to focus on yourself and your mental and physical health. This will allow you to be in a better mindset. Practices for self-care may include the following:
*Practice meditation/mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation can be an excellent technique for dealing with unwanted thoughts. You can learn to observe your mental processes instead of being caught up in them.
*Be aware of negative self-talk. Positive affirmations can help change the tone of negative self-talk.
*Get good sleep.
*Eat healthy foods and stay hydrated.
*Get outside. Feel the sunshine and the wind. A change of scenery may change your mindset.
*Reconnect with a hobby that you’ve moved away from (sculpting, dancing, writing, playing an instrument, etc.).
*Avoid people, places and things that can be triggering for you.
- Don’t let yourself get bored. Fill your time with healthy, positive activities so that you are less likely to fill that time with substance use. Have a routine to your day that helps keep you on track and feeling productive.
- Pay attention to HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, or tired). These feelings are vulnerabilities that can increase your stress and possibly lead to bad decisions.
- Create a thankfulness list. In what can feel like dark days, it is important to remember that despite everything, you still have things to be grateful for. This list is a good reminder of all the reasons you have to stay sober. Add to the list before you go to bed and read it when you wake up in the morning. This can be a positive way to begin your day.
- Create a relapse prevention plan. A relapse prevention plan may include a daily checklist, a list of reminders (for appointments, chores, etc.), and ways to identify triggers when they pop up. It should also list coping skills that work for you and supports that you can reach out to if you’re struggling.
- Ask for help. Maintaining recovery is profoundly challenging, and you run the risk of making it harder if you try to do so alone. If you are struggling, ask your family and friends for help. Reach out to your support system.
- Get social support. If you are already part of a 12-step or alternative support group, continue to participate if at all possible. If you are not, find a way to get involved. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer online support meetings. There are also various other online spaces where you can find support. In the Rooms is a free resource that offers 130 online meetings every week for people in recovery.
American Addiction Centers is also hosting free, virtual support meetings. The meetings will be based on traditional 12-step meetings and will be hosted by someone in recovery.
Maintaining your recovery is a journey full of ups and downs, and it is imperative that you recognize that our global health crisis may put you at risk of a major down that could lead to relapse. Make sure to do the work to prepare yourself for this risk so that you can stay sober during these trying times. And if you need help, reach out to one of our admissions navigators today at +1 (888) 359-3352
Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl
Licensed Medical Health Professional
I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More