Ashlee Stumpf, LPC

Sobriety is hard in the best of times; add a global pandemic in the mix and it can almost seem as if the world is wanting you to relapse. However, for many with substance use history, COVID-19 is not the most difficult time of their lives. They have and/or continue to battle against a more personal foe. And many people have adapted before to achieve a healthier, sober lifestyle, here are five ways to maintain sobriety while social distancing:

Don’t Keep Your Substance of Choice in Your Home

This may seem obvious but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth saying. Keeping your drug of choice at your residence is not a matter of if you will use, but when. Two months, two years, or two decades sober does not guarantee you won’t relapse in the future. Willpower is great, but it can vary from day to day. Why make staying sober any harder than it has to be? Instead make relapsing harder. Maybe it’s not much, but that walk to the corner store requires more effort than opening the fridge. 

Understand What the Substance is Giving You

A main component of addiction treatment is understanding what the substance is giving the person. As humans, we rarely do something for nothing. If we continue a behavior, it’s generally because we’re getting something from it. It’s likely the drug/substance gives the person a feeling of freedom, acceptance, relaxation, or numbness they’re not receiving otherwise. Once you understand what that is then you can seek healthier alternatives. Seeking relaxation? Instead of extra drinks at dinner maybe talk to a good friend in a non-drinking setting, practice yoga, or explore if any stressors can be eliminated from your life. Wishing to feel numb? Understand there is not enough of any substance to take pain away forever and while emotions can be intimidating, they cannot physically hurt you. Understanding your “why” is a major component to any plan of action. 

Keep in Contact with Your Crew

In these times of social distancing, isolation can be an unfortunate side effect. This is why it is vital, especially for those in recovery, to make sure they keep in contact with those important to them. Take the time to nurture the meaningful relationships in your life. In times of crisis is when we need our people the most. The reason this is crucial to people in recovery is that when they isolate they are more likely to think about and later fall back into old habits. Having regular contact with supportive people remind us we are loved and motivate us to keep going in our recovery. This could involve making a list of friends and/or family and trying to call or see “X” amount each week. 

Online and Over-the-Phone Support Groups

Family and friends can be supportive, but they may not fully understand what it is like to have an addiction, which is why support groups are a wonderful addition to anyone’s recovery crew. COVID-19 has made in-person meetings scares, but organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Smart Recovery have alternative options. Both AA and NA provide numerous free chat rooms, online meetings, and over-the-phone meetings to anyone who wishes to stop their substance use. You do not have to talk if you don’t want to. People are welcome just to listen. Smart Recovery also offers chat rooms and online meetings to those who want to learn how to manage their substance use. Their aims differ but both organizations have helped many people achieve their goals. 

For most of us this pandemic is unlike anything we have faced before. New challenges call for new solutions. What may have been helped keep you sober in the past may not be enough now. But that is okay. Sobriety takes resiliency. It takes adaptation. It always has. That means it is difficult to maintain, but not impossible. Take the time to listen to yourself and your needs. If that means trying something you’ve never done before, get yourself permission to try.