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Managing Substance Use and Recovery During COVID-19

Managing Substance Use and Recovery During COVID-19

Est. reading time: 2 mins
Posted Under: Recommendations

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


For young adults in recovery or living with a substance use disorder, COVID-19 has created new uncertainties, stresses, and triggers that are widespread. Mass disruptions to supportive networks (including familiar 12-step programs and support groups) as well as to conventional inpatient and outpatient treatment programming have created a domino effect in the recovery world. Access to support has become unpredictable and availability limited. Many treatment facilities have shut down, limited intakes and admissions, or discharged clients, while hospitals across the country are overloaded.

In the wake of these challenges, it is all the more important for young people to have access to professional tips on how to manage in this new and difficult reality. Below, our partner and Chief of Clinical Services at The Dorm, Dr. Amanda Fialk, shares some perspectives that may be helpful for any young adult managing their recovery or substance use during COVID-19.

1. Try To Connect In New Ways

  • Social distance does NOT have to mean social isolation
  • While physical gatherings may not be possible, technology offers so many opportunities for connection even while sheltering in place. We recommend using this time to speak with friends, family members, therapists or anyone who will be a positive support to work through triggers, minimize urges and settle unease
  • Talking to a person, seeing a face, and hearing a voice offers a more authentic experience than sending a text or a Facebook message. We recommend FaceTime and Zoom or any other video chat interface right now
  • Most importantly, connect to treatment online (online AA and Narcotics Anonymous Meetings

2. Establish a Routine and Limiting Media Can Really Help Those In Recovery During COVID-19

  • There are many abnormal aspects about the current situation with COVID-19 but establishing a daily routine will help those in recovery reduce and combat urges and cravings
  • We recommend trying something new (a fledgling project or a new hobby). There are also wonderful opportunities for virtual volunteering. Doing service can help an individual get “outside of themselves”
  • To combat feelings of anxiety it can be helpful to stay off social media or limit the amount of time spent watching the news every day. Too much media can keep someone in a state of constant worry

3. Practice Self-care and Compassion

  • If there is a ‘slip’, it’s important not to view this as a failure. Rather, view this as a learning experience and forgive yourself. A slip does not have to turn into a complete relapse. 
  • Partake in at least one self-care act daily i.e. light a candle, take a bath or try aromatherapy
  • Have positive affirmations posted on sticky notes throughout your space

4. Move, Eat, Sleep and Take Care of Your Health Needs!

  • Movement is a great recovery tool. Moving a muscle can help “change a thought” and is a great way to get out of one’s own head. Movement helps ease anxiety, depression, and loneliness and adds structure to the day. Depending on what’s available, we recommend gardening, virtual workouts, walks, and yoga!
  • Maintaining a good sleep/eat hygiene is vital to recovery. Being hungry or tired can make one angry or irritable. We recommend that individuals make restful sleep and eating three balanced meals a day a priority right now
  • Most importantly, now is the time to make sure your wider health needs are being met
  • Have a plan to speak regularly to mental health providers (daily touchpoints are recommended) and know that telehealth is appropriate and effective, it just takes a little adjustment!

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