preventing relapse during pandemic

Maintaining sobriety during the coronavirus pandemic will definitely present some unusual challenges. Never in our lifetimes has the nation had to navigate the kinds of upheaval we are currently facing, which, for someone in recovery, can increase the prospects of a relapse occurring. Even with all the usual relapse prevention strategies in place, there are unique hurdles to clear that simply are not the norm.

So much about sustaining recovery is about attitude. Being grateful, remaining positive, finding the blessings, and putting one foot in front of the other are helpful thoughts and attitudes that can keep us strong on a day-to-day basis. But after weeks of having to remain inside the home, positive thoughts might be wearing thin by about now. The ways of preventing relapse during the pandemic are dependent upon hanging on to that positivity, no matter what. 

It is easy to get caught up in the moment, the daily drama that is unfolding across the globe demands our attention and can leave us feeling very powerless and fragile. We are used to relying on the combination of commitment to sobriety, gratitude, our social support system, and sheer grit to help us get through each day in recovery. But the pandemic has managed to destabilize daily life and increase the risk of relapse.

To make it through this national crisis with our recovery intact will take a concerted effort, there is no doubt about that. However, with a shift in perspective and attitude it is possible to grow even stronger in our commitment to sobriety. Times of distress provide opportunities to rise to the task at hand and gain a sense of pride and accomplishment. Use this historic event to strengthen your resolve by using a variety of ways of preventing relapse during the pandemic.

7 Ways of Preventing Relapse During the Pandemic

The coronavirus crisis has upended the support networks that many in recovery rely on to help them stay sober. Social support is a powerful deterrent for preventing relapse, and suddenly this resource is scarce. A lack of peer support can allow the mind to begin to entertain thoughts of using or drinking again, especially if additional risk factors like financial stress or a mental health issue are present. Relying solely on one’s sheer will to gut out the lockdown and remain sober is not realistic. Instead, consider accessing the following ways to prevent a relapse during the pandemic:

  1. Get outdoors. Tamping down recovery during the coronavirus pandemic will depend in great part on minding your mental health. Come up with a hobby that can be done outside, such as gardening, meditating, or plein air painting. Activities such as these not only are enjoyable, but they get us out into the fresh air where we can soak up vitamin D. Vitamin D, an effect of sun exposure, is essential to maintaining mental health. Planting a garden, in particular, is a relaxing activity that can provide hours of enjoyment, so order some seeds and soil off Amazon and start cultivating some crops.
  2. Keep perspective. Our thoughts are powerful and have the ability to either have a positive or negative effect on our ability to remain sober. When in treatment, CBT was an effective psychotherapy that helped individuals in recovery make positive adjustments in thought patterns. Use CBT techniques when you find yourself engaging in catastrophic black or white thinking about the pandemic, and recognize these as thought distortions. Use it when you find yourself annoyed with the less-than-perfect living situation and tempted to self-medicate as a way of managing frustration. Shift the negative self-massaging toward productive, positive thinking.
  3. Access online support groups. Losing live recovery meetings can be devastating for someone who relies on regular contact and fellowship in the recovery community. Fortunately, online forums are proliferating during the crisis. There are online communities for 12-step groups like A.A. and N.A., as well as non 12-step groups such as SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, and LifeRing. The groups utilize various technologies to connect members, such as Zoom, Adobe Connect, or standard chat forums. While an in-person support group is usually preferable, having access to online support is a lifesaver during the pandemic.
  4. Maintain a nutritious diet. Our diet has a direct effect on our mood, our mental health, and our physical wellbeing. While tempting to feast on junk food and salty snacks all day, it is not helpful for maintaining emotional stability. During the pandemic, protect sobriety by sticking to a healthy diet at least most of the time. Do not skip meals, enjoy healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks, and keep food choices centered around lean proteins, foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fresh produce when possible, and limit both sugar and caffeine for optimum wellbeing.
  5. Revisit your list of triggers. Each individual has his or her own unique set of triggering situations, people, places, or things that might set off a series of emotional or thought responses that could result in a relapse. Refresh your memory by listing all the triggers or stressors that you are vulnerable to. This exercise can help refocus your commitment to recovery while also sharpening up your attentiveness to potential stressors that crop up during this unusual life event. 
  6. Reach out to friends. Keep the lines open between you and your support network. This is important on several levels. First, remaining connected to people who care about you will provide important recovery support if you find yourself in a weak place. These are the people in your life who you trust and who you can always be 100% honest with. Secondly, social connection will help stave off feelings of isolation. Human beings need to be connected to other human beings. That is our natural human state, not being in quarantine for weeks or months. Feed your need for connection by reaching out to friends and loved ones.
  7. Fill your time. As one day stretches out into another it is easy to fall into the trap of laziness or boredom. For those in addiction recovery, aimlessness is not healthy. Make a list of things you want to accomplish while in lockdown. We may never again have the luxury of time to pursue hobbies, rekindle old passions, or discover new interests, so why not take advantage of this opportunity. Especially if you are unable to work from home, use this time to complete some projects around the house, to experiment in the kitchen, or to read those books you ordered last year. Make the most of your spare time and you will not only gain a sense of accomplishment, but will also dodge a boredom-induced relapse.

Warning Signs of Relapse

Even those individuals who are rock solid in their recovery can be vulnerable to a relapse during such unusual life events as what we are all experiencing today. Be cognizant of the warning signs that recovery is threatened:

  • Diminishing contact with sponsor. Accountability is an intrinsic aspect of achieving recovery success, especially in the first year of recovery. Many have utilized the help of a recovery sponsor as an important source of support and accountability. If the individual begins to avoid contact with their sponsor it is a red flag that their recovery is wavering.
  • Being in a state of denial. Ignoring the signs of impending relapse by being in a stubborn state of denial only allows the disease to flourish, increasing the risk of a relapse actually occurring. 
  • Increasing symptoms of anxiety or depression. Mood swings, angry outbursts, depression, suicidal ideation, and feelings of anxiety can be heightened during this crisis. Deteriorating mental health can be a risk factor for relapse.
  • Romancing past substance use. It is natural to try to find ways to help manage the psychological distress caused by the upheaval related to the pandemic. It may be tempting to long for the relief that a substance once provided for self-medicating stress and other uncomfortable emotions, which can increase the risk for relapse.
  • Becoming socially isolated. Even though the social distancing measures imposed already dramatically reduce the ability to engage socially, people are still reaching out via text, FaceTime, and social media. Isolating socially by not even engaging in these activities can increase feelings of loneliness and reduce accountability in recovery, which can lead to relapse. 

While the pandemic is definitely throwing a monkey wrench into the usual recovery maintenance efforts, there are opportunities for personal growth and fresh insights that can come of it.

Solutions 4 Recovery Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Orange County

Solutions 4 Recovery offers state of the art addiction and dual diagnosis in South Orange County, California. With a professional staff trained in the most current treatment methods, Solutions 4 Recovery is here for individuals ready to embark on the recovery journey. Our residential rehab is undertaking the highest degree of safety precautions to provide an environment that is both safe and supportive during the coronavirus event. If you or a loved one are seeking ways of preventing relapse during the pandemic, contact Solutions 4 Recovery for assistance today at (888) 417-1874.