There can be no doubt that the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many people. Unknown aspects of the virus, its effects, and prolonged isolation from others have caused people around the world to experience heightened levels of anxiety.
When we face daily challenges associated with addiction and its underlying causes, being forced into social isolation can present new challenges. When we are not connected to those we trust, we might feel more stressed or anxious, leading to additional triggers and relapse risks.
Addiction and Isolation
Physical and emotional connection to others causes our brain to produce dopamine, which is the brain’s feel-good response. When we no longer experience the positive responses of being with others, we may self-medicate, creating additional problems.
Before COVID-19, we might have engaged in social drinking after work, at neighborhood get-togethers, and only occasionally by ourselves. Faced with prolonged isolation, our drinking may have increased over the last year. Since we lack social connections right now, we may also self-medicate with prescription medications.
For those of us in recovery, social isolation can trigger old habits and behaviors. Twelve months ago, we may have developed new, healthier habits that included taking frequent trips to the gym. If we don’t have space at home, and the gym is closed, we may now be trying to substitute the new habit for another one!
Health Effects of Social Isolation
Addiction and mental health issues can cause us to feel isolated, especially if we intentionally push those who are closest to us away with our behavior. The irony is that we often push away the people we trust and rely on the most.
Beyond having relationships with friends and family members who usually orbit our inner circle, we may also have relationships through work. Social distancing and work-from-home orders, unfortunately, have removed even limited interactions with people from work.
We may experience the effects of social isolation in the following ways:
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Low Self-Esteem
- Increased Stress
- Relapsing Into Unhealthy Routines or Addiction
If any of this seems familiar, it’s important to proactively look at ways to re-engage with the recovery community. Most rehabilitation programs have adapted their routines and procedures to provide safe services for clients. Obviously, if you feel vulnerable due to a pre-existing condition that could affect your ability to handle the COVID-19 virus, you might have additional concerns. However, you should still have access to talk to someone.
Think about engaging with others in the following ways:
- Check to see if your support group is now offering online counseling or support.
- Contact your local NA or AA for advice on meeting during continued COVID-19 conditions.
- If you want to enter a detox and rehabilitation program, call and ask about their current COVID-19 policy and attendance conditions.
Although we now have a vaccine, there is still a way to go before we have a broad sweep of immunity against this virus and its variants. We all need to stay safe and do the right thing for our communities. However, that does not mean we should suffer from addiction and mental health in silence.
In the meantime, we might consider some of the ways we may have benefited from limited contact with others. Being alone gives us time to think. We just need to ensure we choose to think healthy thoughts.
- Make a note of 3-5 things you have learned about yourself in the last several months.
- Make a list of 3-5 creative interests you might like to pursue while limiting contact with other people. This could include something as simple as paint by numbers, writing poetry, or learning about photography.
- Make a list of things you would like to do once the lockdown is over. This might include taking a trip to another part of the country, going on vacation outside of the U.S., hiking in the mountains, or simply sitting on a beach and soaking up the sun.
It is up to you. The list is only a suggestion. What matters is thinking beyond where you are right now while working toward a successful addiction management outcome.
There can be no doubt that the last twelve months have been difficult for many people. Unknown aspects of the COVID-19 virus and its effect on people can cause high levels of stress. When we face daily challenges associated with addiction and its underlying causes, being forced into social isolation can present new problems. It is essential to proactively look at ways we can re-engage with the recovery community. Surrounded by the sublime landscape of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, the Detox Center of Colorado offers a solution-based transitional residence program aimed at accountability and recovery. Against a backdrop of clean, mountain air, your substance abuse or mental health recovery is supported by a range of treatment and aftercare options developed with your needs in mind. Get healthy. Get here. Call the Detox Center of Colorado at (303) 952-5035. It may be the best thing can you do for yourself.