Maintaining Your Recovery while Facing Anxiety, Social Distancing, and Isolation

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There is no endpoint to recovery. Rather, it involves work that must happen every day in order for you to maintain your sobriety. In the best of times, recovery can be challenging, but when additional obstacles are thrown in your way, it can be even more difficult to practice the habits that are necessary to remain healthy and focused.

Living in a world that is being severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a pandemic that is closing schools and businesses and forcing people to self-isolate, can be overwhelming and frightening for everyone, but it poses additional obstacles for those in recovery.

Stress and anxiety can upend healthy strategies used by those with mental health issues, including those dealing with substance use disorders. That is what it is imperative for you to practice healthy recovery habits—now more than ever.

Epidemic vs. Pandemic:

An epidemic occurs when there is an increase in the number of a disease from what is generally expected in a geographical area. A pandemic occurs when a disease spreads across numerous countries and impacts numerous people.7

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) :

A respiratory illness that is contagious and can be spread from person to person. There is a higher probability of infection with COVID-19 for those who have been in close contact with someone known to have the disease. While there is a possibility that infection can occur by touching an object or surface that has the virus on it, that is not the main way that the virus is spread.8

Social distancing, self-quarantine, isolation:

The purpose of social distancing is to decrease the amount of close contact that people have with each other. Coronavirus can spread through airborne droplets so staying away from people gives you a better chance of avoiding infection. With social distancing and self-quarantine (when you separate yourself from your community in order to protect yourself and those around you) can come isolation. Isolation occurs when we are removed from contact with others, and it can have a major impact on the mind and the body.

The Financial, Professional, Personal, and Health Effects of a Pandemic

A situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, one that is touching people in every community across the globe, can bring about great worry and fear. There are numerous ways that people are being impacted by this global health crisis, and all of those areas can pose tremendous obstacles to continued sobriety.

Facing Financial and Employment Hardships:

One immediate effect of the global health crisis that many are experiencing is financial hardship. People have had hours cut and some have even lost their jobs. Concerns about the economy and where the next paycheck will come from is a growing trend in the country. A reduction or loss of income can create tremendous anxiety and stress as people struggle to figure out how to make ends meet.

Childcare Challenges:

Due to the closing of schools and daycare facilities, some people have lost childcare and are struggling to figure out how to provide care for their children while continuing to work. Family support isn’t always the best option as grandparents and other family members may be part of the groups that are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 (due to age or chronic/preexisting conditions).1 With schools and many daycare/childcare facilities closed, families may have very limited options.

Working from homeWork Environments:

Many employees have found themselves in a new situation where they are required to work from home. Working from home can be challenging as it presents new obstacles including numerous distractions, an environment in which it is harder to focus, feelings of disconnect and loneliness, difficulty maintaining motivation, and more.

That challenge is even further intensified if other family members, including children, are also at home and creating additional distractions.

Alternatively, employees who are still required to go into work may be facing fear that they are putting themselves at risk of contracting the disease by being out in public. That stress may then be exacerbated by the fear that those employees may become carriers for the disease and could bring it home to their loved ones.

While people respond to stress and anxiety in different ways As the stress and anxiety increase, a return to substance use can seem tempting as many people reach for alcohol or drugs in order to cope.2

Prolonged Isolation

We are in uncharted territories with this global health crisis, and the unknown leaves us open to feelings of uncertainty and fear. The very knowledge that people may need to practice social distancing and even isolation for the long term, for weeks if not months, can be devastating.

According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, loneliness and social isolation can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more critical than obesity.3 Feeling isolated and alone can push people into extremely negative headspaces where they neglect their own health and wellbeing. The danger this poses is only made worse for those who are dealing with a substance use disorder.

In fact, a recent study found that the feeling of loneliness is more strongly felt by those who misuse drugs than those who do not, and that could increase the chance that those in recovery would have a higher probability of misusing substances again.4 Therefore, it is vital that strategies for avoiding loneliness be part of treatment, aftercare, and continued sobriety.4 This is where social connections and support groups are essential.

Additional Healthcare Concerns for those in Recovery

While COVID-19 poses a threat due to the risk of relapse, it also poses another major health threat to those in recovery. COVID-19 may hit certain groups with substance use disorders especially hard because it attacks the lungs. With its impact on the lungs, it could be more dangerous for those who vaped or smoked tobacco or marijuana. In addition, people who have opioid and methamphetamine use disorders may also be more at risk because of those drugs’ effect on pulmonary and respiratory health.5

Connect with others with video chat.

Strategies for Maintaining Recovery During Crisis

  • Reach Out: Social relationships are essential to our emotional well-being, but they are also critical to our physical well-being because social connection is actually a biological need.6
  • During this crisis, although we are often unable to connect with family in friends in person, we are fortunate to live in a time where there are various other ways that we can connect. Reach out to loved ones, especially in those moments when you fear that your sobriety may be at risk. Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Live, and even the telephone are among the options you can utilize to connect with others for support, encouragement, and love. This is also an important way to connect with a sponsor or other members of any support groups you belong to as they can understand better than anyone else what you are going through.
  • Continue Meeting with a Support Group: For many, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or other 12-step or group meetings are a vital part of their sobriety. In some instances, going to the meetings in person is not possible, and that is when virtual meetings can come into play. AA has virtual meetings available, as does NA. There are also various other online spaces where you can find support. For example, In the Rooms is a free resource that offers 130 online meetings every week for people in recovery from addiction and related issues.
    • American Addiction Centers is also hosting free, virtual support meetings. The meetings will be based on traditional 12-step meetings and will be hosted by someone in recovery.
  • Practice Self-Care: During a crisis, we often set aside our own well-being so that we can take care of those around us. Don’t forget that taking care of yourself makes you better able to take care of others. Practices for self-care may include the following:Practice meditation/mindfulness. Focus on your breathing and take time to center and calm yourself.
    • Endorphins released through exercise can quickly lift your mood and leave you in a better mindset.
    • Get good sleep.
    • Eat healthy foods.
    • Read, write, or journal.
    • Reconnect with a hobby that you’ve let fall by the wayside (painting, cooking, playing music, etc.)

There are numerous activities that you can become involved in that will help you manage anxiety and stress; find the practices that work best for you.

We are living in unprecedented times, and we must be patient and kind to ourselves. Take the time to practice self-care so that you give yourself the best opportunity for success as you continue to work for your recovery.


  1. Centers for Disease Control. (2020). How to Protect Yourself.
  2. Centers for Disease Control. (2020). Manage Stress & Anxiety.
  3. Health Resources & Services Administration. (2019). The “Loneliness Epidemic”
  4. Hosseinbor, M., Yassini Ardekani, S. M., Bakhshani, S., & Bakhshani, S. (2014). Emotional and social loneliness in individuals with and without substance dependence disorder. International journal of high risk behaviors & addiction3(3), e22688.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). COVID-19: Potential Implications for Individuals with Substance Use Disorders
  6. Holt-Lunstad, J. (2017). The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk FactorsPublic Policy & Aging Report. 27(4), 127–130
  7. Caceres, V. (2020). What’s the Difference Between an Epidemic and Pandemic? U.S. News & World Report.
  8. Centers for Disease Control. (2020). What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

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