Staying Sober During the Pandemic

How to deal with common triggers.

Posted Jun 25, 2020

Fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting many communities. Individuals who are in recovery from substance use disorder are having a disproportionately difficult time. Disruption of community support groups, loss of work, illness, and other stressors can make it difficult to get into or maintain recovery. Relapse rates are rising.

This article focuses on five common relapse triggers and how to address them.

Boredom

Boredom is a state that develops when an individual doesn’t have enough to do or when nothing captures their interest. For those who are accustomed to working but now find themselves unemployed, or who are usually quite involved in their communities but find themselves needing to be at home, boredom can set in.

Boredom can be overcome by creating a routine. Since it develops out of having “nothing to do,” developing times for specific activities, from showering to house cleaning, helps to stave off boredom.

Alternatively, you might try something new—learn to crochet, pick up a musical instrument you used to play, or play a board game. Virtual activities can fun be too. If you live alone, play checkers online with a friend who lives elsewhere or have a virtual dinner with someone else who is feeling bored or lonely.

Isolation

In our homes, especially if we are alone or in a difficult relationship, isolation can set in. Whether real or perceived, during a stay-at-home period, it is easy to feel as if everyone you know and rely on is far away, unreachable.

The good news is that with technology, we do not have to be isolated. For those in recovery, there are online 12-step meetings and other types of support 24 hours a day. Individuals in Australia are attending virtual meetings in New York or London, to connect. We can have virtual tea or, in some places, meet up with a limited number of others. Face-to-face interactions are beginning to happen again. You can take advantage of this, as your location and health allow.

Fear

This is a time of great uncertainty. There’s quite a bit to be afraid of. Many of us have lost our jobs. Some of our industries are badly damaged. Whether you’re an airline pilot, a Pilates instructor, a musician, or a restaurateur, the truth is we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Uncertainty breeds hopelessness and a mind that seeks solutions that may or may not be reasonable.

One of the best ways to combat fear is to breathe into the feeling using a mindfulness practice. Take a breath and survey your surroundings. How are you right now, in this moment? Odds are you are safe and secure. If you breathe into that knowing, it will help settle feelings of anxiety.

In the longer term, making self-care a priority will also help overcome fear. Especially if fears are based in outsize or ruminant thinking, do something healthy for yourself. Make time to relax, enjoy a bath, go for a walk, or talk with a friend or mentor. These activities can reduce fear.

Stress

Stress is real, especially with the pandemic, economic difficulties, and social strife that mark so many of our days. The question for those in recovery is, Does using make any of that better? Certainly, there is a momentary forgetting of our problems when using, but after the initial run, we still have all the same problems, only now using compounds them. Whether it’s psychotherapy, 12-step support, meditation, or other means of addressing stress, there are tools we can use to legitimately reduce stress. Relapse isn’t one of them.

Breakdown of Relationships

Most of us have had a friend or family member who has come out on political or social issues so far from where we stand that it seems as if they have lost their sanity. In the past, civility might have reigned, but now conflict can enter these relationships, causing them to break down to the point that they are unhealthy.

It may be sad to distance ourselves from people who were once important to us, but in doing so, we can seek support from people who genuinely have our best interests at heart. There are online support meetings where the loss of relationships can be discussed. We have like-minded fellows who will help us grieve our losses. We can throw ourselves into work that stimulates us, helping to shape the world in new, exciting ways. Opportunities to volunteer, to be part of a sea-change, have never been more ample in this century.

Many individuals in recovery are relapsing. By dealing with common triggers, you don’t have to be among that number. If you have already slipped, help is available. Together, we recover.

Check Psychology Today’s directory of therapists to connect with a mental health professional near you.