The coronavirus public health pandemic is having a devastating impact on our world, our country, and our local communities. It is also having a devastating impact on individuals suffering from substance use disorder and mental health issues, as well as the community of people living in recovery from addiction. For those in active addiction, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated issues or forced hidden issues to light due, while making some addiction treatment services difficult to access. For those people living in recovery from addiction, COVID-19 quarantines and isolation have made recovery difficult, cutting them off from connection, meetings, or supportive services.
It is vital that those in early sobriety or living in recovery create awareness of many of the potential relapse triggers that are taking place due to COVID-19, and guard against many of the dangers that exist, but that may be more prevalent due to the coronavirus public health pandemic and the isolation, disconnection, and quarantine issues stemming from it.
Here are 10 common relapse triggers for addiction taking place during COVID-19:
Fear is a major cause of ongoing active addiction, but fears (both rational and irrational) may be more prevalent or more intense now due to the coronavirus. There is a lot taking place right now that we don’t know, we don’t understand, and can scare us. Information is being disseminated and processed in a rapid pace. Fear of the known and the unknown is in our face every day, so we must guard against it.
Mental Health issues (anxiety/depression)
Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can be exacerbated due to COVID-19, quarantine and isolation. While mental health services are available through telehealth, it is still extremely difficult to find help and support for mental health and psychiatric conditions while cut off from the rest of the world.
Isolation (and loneliness) are often triggers from relapse into active addiction. Cut off from friends and family. Endlessly watching the news on television. Lack of connection. These things often are at the heart of addiction, and these issues are often more intense now for many people due to COVID-19.
Stress is a big trigger from active addiction. It is overwhelming. It causes fear. It makes people feel uncomfortable and out of control. And there is a lot of ongoing stress taking place now. Many people feel like they can’t breathe, and for those with addiction issues, that often makes them turn to drugs and alcohol for relief.
For many young people with substance use disorder issues, boredom is typically mentioned as a common reason for relapse. They feel alive using drugs and alcohol. It gives them something to do, something to plan their social interactions around, and a means to connect to peers. Many people, once finding sobriety and living sober, don’t quite know how to find things to enjoy in early recovery. It is a process they must go through, but it is very difficult to do in the present circumstances due to COVID-19. People are quarantined, stuck at home, unable to see family and friends, or engage in many activities they enjoy.
Family dynamics are often are major issue for anyone suffering from addiction, and addiction always stresses and negatively impacts a family. Now, during quarantine due to COVID-19, many families dealing with an addicted loved one are stuck together for long periods of time with little to do. It causes stress, irritation, agitation, anger, fear, and anxiety. A family dealing with an addicted loved one stuck in a home together with little outlets for relief is a like a ticking time bomb. Eventually, it is going to explode.
Loss (loss of job/employment/relationship)
Loss can be a big trigger for relapse. The loss of a loved one due to COVID-19. The loss of a job and continued unemployment. The loss of income. The loss of a relationship that may have ended due to stress during quarantine. The loss of human connection and social interaction. The loss of routine or the loss of fun and enjoyable activities.
Disconnection/Lack or loss of connection
Lack of connection has already been discussed. It could relate to connection to family and friends. It could relate to connection in terms of purpose or meaning based on relationship, job, or employment. It could relate to just regular connection to society and the outside world. Addiction is often said to be based in disconnection- that the relationship with drugs and alcohol gives individuals a connection that they were lacking with self and with others. For many people, the connection(s) they have found in recovery spiritually, personally, physically, and socially has now been severed.
Change in routine (meetings/recovery activities)
COVID-19 has certainly changed much, and one of the biggest is routine. People in recovery, especially early recovery, benefit from a regular routine. They often begin that process while in rehab or addiction treatment and then continue it in early recovery. They wake up and begin their day the same way. They go to regular meetings and find connection. They end their day with prayer and meditation. They plan out their daily schedule and this routine helps them achieve a sense of normalcy in the sometimes difficult period of early recovery. However, that routine has now been broken due to the coronavirus.
Trauma (trauma responses)
Trauma and learning to deal with and overcome or live with traumatic experiences is another regular relapse trigger. Trauma, no matter how complex, requires ongoing therapy and support to overcome or learn to live with by a person who is living in recovery. However, with the shock of COVID-19 and the overwhelming scenario it has caused everyone to face, many people are having a trauma response to the pandemic or dealing with old trauma issues they had worked through. The reemergence of these feelings and issues, and the lack of available mental health and recovery support, can often lead to a relapse back into active addiction.
All of these issues described above are triggers that can lead to relapse during any period of time, global health pandemic outbreak or not. And while these triggers may be more intensified or obvious now, it is always important to be mindful of them, be aware of them, and regularly guard against them by taking whatever necessary actions possible to keep them arrested or at bay. While it may be more difficult now, people seeking sobriety or living in recovery from addiction would do well to appropriately address them through whatever help and support is available, so that when they occur the individual is appropriately prepared. These are not meant to be frightening or ominous, but rather to inform and aid those in recovery to seek the necessary help, support, guidance, and direction needed before they can be overwhelming and potentially lead to a relapse.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.