September is National Recovery Month – and This Year is More Important Than Ever
Every September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, a time to honor and celebrate the millions of people who have found a way out from the depths of addiction. The theme this year is “Celebrating Connections.” In a time of COVID-19, developing and fostering relationships is difficult. Not only are people dealing with the social and economic effects of COVID-19, but recovery meetings have turned to online platforms, further isolating people in recovery who rely so heavily on in-person meetings. When you add into consideration the vast political divide wreaking havoc across the nation, there are several aspects of 2020 that have made nourishing meaningful relationships particularly difficult. As a result, National Recovery Month aims to reinforce the importance of building new connections while celebrating the connections people in recovery already have.
The Pandemic Drives A New Increase in Opioid Overdose Deaths
As COVID-19 continues to take the lives of thousands of Americans each day, more than 30 states have also seen an increase in opioid and drug overdose deaths. Early research indicates that suspected drug overdoses have climbed nearly 18% compared to previous years. Moreover, the National Institute of Health (NIH) recently reported that nearly half of Americans are struggling with their mental health due to the pandemic, and emotional distress reported during crisis calls to emergency hotlines has increased by 1,000%. So, what is the number one cause of relapse and/or struggles in recovery? Social isolation.
According to the NIH, social distancing measures make it difficult for people in recovery to care for their mental health because isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Not only are some people unemployed and trying to stay home as much as possible, but most 12-step groups have ceased in-person meetings. Although these meetings are available on Zoom, many people in recovery have reported that they simply aren’t the same. Tuning into a one-hour virtual call doesn’t provide the same sense of community that in-person meetings do, further exacerbating feelings of loneliness, isolation, and uncertainty for people in recovery.
As a direct result of the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, some states such as Delaware have seen as much as a 60% increase in drug-related deaths so far this year. Clearly, it is vital for people in recovery to find ways to stay connected while staying healthy – and National Recovery Month aims to help people achieve that.
Staying Connected and Staying Sober in a Time of COVID-19
Connection is one of the most important aspects of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Even though meetings are online, it is still a way to connect with people. Many people on online meetings give out their phone numbers or contact information on chat to extend the notion that they are there to help if someone is struggling. If you feel uncomfortable unmuting yourself and speaking during a Zoom meeting, try messaging somebody instead.
In addition, now is a great time to connect with people you haven’t spoken to in a while. Whether it is a distant family member, childhood friend, or someone you met at a meeting several months ago, it can be beneficial to contact them. Simply thinking of others and reaching out to people will help you fight off any unpleasant emotions and connect with someone else. Remember, social distancing doesn’t mean isolation, and now more than ever, it is crucial for people in recovery to stay connected.
In addition to making an extra effort to reach out to others and gain support, there are additional things you can do to care for your mental health and support your recovery. Elise Guthmann, LMFT and Clinical Program Director at Evolve Treatment, explains several strategies to help people both in and out of recovery cope with the effects of COVID-19. These include:
Practice Mindfulness – mindful meditation can help soothe the body and the mind. It is a practice of accepting things as they are without judgment and is known to help people work through drug or alcohol cravings.
Limit Media Consumption – the news is heavy right now, and reading too much of it can take a toll on your mental health. When reading the news or looking at social media, make sure to check the facts you’re taking in. At the same time, limit the amount of time you spend online and pick up the phone to call a friend, instead.
Remember to Relax and Have Fun – self-care is essential in recovery. If you don’t take time to take care of your mind, body, and spirit, your mental health will suffer and you may be more prone to relapse. Instead, find activities that you enjoy or learn a new skill. This will help you stay busy, stave off boredom, and find a sense of purpose.
Get Involved With National Recovery Month
In lieu of enhancing and celebrating connections, a great way to get involved with National Recovery Month is to visit their website and check out a list of events happening online and in your area. On the other hand, if you or someone you know is hosting an event, you can post your event to the Recovery Month website, allowing for more people in your community to find the event. And, most importantly, remember to keep reaching out, helping others, and sharing your story of recovery to show people that sobriety is possible.