For individuals who are in recovery from a substance use disorder, the ability to recognize and avoid triggers can be an essential skill. But no matter how hard you work or how diligently you prepare, sometimes it’s impossible to remove yourself from situations or experiences that threaten your sobriety.
For example, we know that excessive stress, significant life changes, and isolation can all increase a person’s risk for relapse. At Timberline Knolls, we help women and girls learn how to manage stress, develop strategies for dealing with life changes before they occur, and overcome the urge to withdraw from family members and friends.
Normally, incorporating these skills into your daily life can help you eliminate many of the factors that might put your recovery at risk. Unfortunately, the past few months have been far from normal.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been a time of virtually unavoidable stress. Many of us have experienced dramatic life changes with little to no warning, and we’ve all undergone extended periods of either mandated or strongly encouraged social distancing.
A Widespread Problem
Sadly, it appears that many people have responded to these difficult times by turning to alcohol.
According to an April 2 MarketWatch article, alcohol sales in the United States increased by 55% during the third week of March. During the same period, online alcohol sales rose by an astounding 243%. This was the time when social distancing advice was becoming more prominent and the first states were announcing stay-at-home orders in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Rising rates of alcohol use are not limited to the United States. A survey conducted by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) found that 21% of Canadians ages 18-34 and 25% of those ages 35-54 have been drinking more since the coronavirus pandemic began.
In an April 1 USC News article, John Clapp, a professor with the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, identified stress as the likely cause of increased alcohol consumption.
“People are coping with kids at home, spouses, social stress, financial stress, work stress, and the threat of disease,” Clapp said. “So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that we’ve seen a spike in drinking.”
Healthy Ways to Respond
Neither of the reports cited in the previous section attempted to determine how recent increases in alcohol consumption differ between individuals in recovery and those who have not been diagnosed with a substance use disorder. But this is clearly a time when many within the recovery community may feel that their continued sobriety is at risk.
The good news (and yes, there is good news!) is that the fundamentals of successful recovery remain the same, even in a time of pandemic. Here are four reminders:
- Stay present. There’s a reason why “one day at a time” is such a common saying within the recovery community. Spending time regretting yesterday or fearing tomorrow will deprive you of the strength and focus you need for today. In a world where so much is beyond your control, remember that you alone have the power to determine how you will think and act today.
- Practice gratitude. Even in our darkest hours, we can find reasons to be thankful. The promise that is inherent in a sunrise. The majestic beauty of a sunset. The opportunity to connect with people who care about you. The chance to support someone who needs your help. Find the moments that mean the most to you, and use them as motivation to stay strong.
- Attend a meeting. While in-person gatherings have been temporarily banned in many communities for purposes of public health, many 12-Step meetings and other support groups have moved online. If your group doesn’t have an online option yet, take a few minutes to find a group that is holding virtual meetings. An added benefit of online communication is that you don’t have to limit your search to groups who are from your area.
- Reach out to a friend. One of the many benefits of life in the 21st century is that we have so many ways to stay in touch. Even if you can’t leave your house, you can keep in touch with members of your personal support network via phone calls, text messages, emails, and video chats. The love of your friends and family members isn’t limited by geography or proximity.
The common thread among these four tips is the concept of connection. When you stay connected with the present moment, with your thoughts and actions, and with those who care about or depend on you, you can find the strength to face the challenges of the day without jeopardizing your continued successful recovery.