Addiction can intensify in pandemic, but try to connect

Sanford behavioral health experts: Try new ways to cope, and seek help if needed

Anxiety: Young man sitting at table anxiously

Community is critical to anyone struggling with any kind of addiction.

When you’re not able to be in community with others, however, an addiction can intensify.

Social distancing drastically limits the time people can spend together.

This creates challenges, because most recovery groups meet in person, says Sanford Health behavioral health specialist Serene Thin Elk.

“In-person is preferable, because we’re able to experience one another in a very different way other than just over the phone or over video,” Thin Elk said. “You’re able to pick up on all the dances of someone’s body language, the tone of their voice, all of those things.”

Finding connection

Many coping mechanisms aren’t available because of the pandemic, Thin Elk said.

“It does make things difficult when we can’t do those things we normally do to cope. Something as simple as meeting someone for dinner, meeting your sponsor out for coffee, going to a meeting in person. All of those things we can’t do at this time.”

But it’s still vital to find connection, “even if it’s connecting to yourself,” Thin Elk said.

“By connection to ourselves, we’re sort of forced to have to be introspective and look at ourselves and relationships differently because we’ve had to slow down.”

“Even if you’re not in full quarantine, you still aren’t able to cope in the same way, so a connection to self through meditations, or going on walks, or journaling,” she said. “It’s really important right now for people who are struggling with addiction and mental health issues,” she added.

Addictions can worsen

The uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic can wreak havoc on those who struggle with addiction, wherever they may be in their battle, according to Thin Elk.

“There’s so many unknowns in our lives, and that can be one of the biggest triggers for some people,” she said.

“That’s why it’s important for people to know what their triggers are. Even sitting down and making a list of the things that make you emotionally triggered or vulnerable, so you can come up with a plan and know how to address it in that moment, without just automatically relapsing or turning to a substance,” she said.

Help is available now

During the coronavirus pandemic, Sanford Health still offers help to those who need it.

“We can do chemical dependency assessments and substance use counseling,” said Sanford Psychiatry and Psychology Clinic director Ann Hamilton. “We do have a peer support advocate within our clinic who is able to provide peer support throughout the patient’s recovery journey, in collaboration with mental health clinician.”

Hamilton and Thin Elk say that the pandemic can also provide an opportunity for someone to seek out different kinds of help.

“I’ve been working with someone who had been considering treatment for quite some time. They’ve tried out-patient treatment and going to some meetings, but have not found that sufficient,” Thin Elk said.

“They asked the question, ‘Now that I’m laid off of work temporarily, would now be a good time to go to inpatient?’ We looked her up a place that she had gone before and really liked and found that it was a great time for her to go, given how things are up in the air, and she’s feeling more triggered during this time.”

“It’s a wonderful time for people to seek treatment, and we want to help.”

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Posted In Behavioral Health, Coronavirus, Wellness

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