• Lisa Himelstieb, LCPC

A pandemic within a pandemic

The global pandemic has brought on the rise of another pandemic: a mental heath crisis, specifically the rise in substance use. With the increase of uncertainty, stress, and loss of control, now more than ever, we are seeing a mental health crisis emerge. Substance use and addiction have been reported to be on the rise. Relying on ones support systems have become harder, loss of job and financial security or even the ability to live our life’s in a meaningful way have been greatly impacted leading people to turn to substances as a way to cope.

Feelings of isolation and loneliness have become more present as the recommendation for social distancing becomes the norm. We see this impacting recovery in a whole new way with individuals not being able to rely on their support systems in the way they once did and feeling less connected than ever.

When does substance use become a problem? It becomes a problem when it interferes with our ability to function in the world whether that be our job, relationships or a way we primarily cope with our life challenges. While struggling with substance issues usually do not present over night, they often gradually begin to impact work/school, relationships, parenting and ones health. Struggling with an addiction can be lonely and often leads to social isolation and feeling helpless to change or that “no one understands what they are going through”.

On the flip side, recovery is heavily involved with building connections and growing a healthy social network. Group therapy has been found to be effective with addressing substance use issues as the group members can hear each others’ stories and learn from one-another and have contrasting thoughts of “there are people that can relate to me and help me with my issues”. This is also part of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and other branches of support groups. Being able to build connections and healthy relationships can have lasting effects on people working on their recovery. This can involve having a network of people that are available when someone may experience a trigger, urge, craving, and/or a stressor, as well as give support to each other during the “good times” and the “bad times.”

AA, NA, and other support groups have been able to offer virtual meetings, which has been a great opportunity for people navigating their recovery during these times. For some, a barrier may feel the it not as productive with having larger numbers of people attend and may not feel as personal as they did before. Finding a meeting that may fit your individual needs will be especially helpful.

How we connect has changed, but finding new ways to connect and hold oneself accountable are essential. We can do this virtually, we can find moments to be around others even if we aren’t interacting with them and by holding ourselves accountable by opening up to others about your own struggles. In a world that is continuing to change and adapt to a new way of living, means overcoming obstacles for maintaining sobriety and coping in a new way.

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