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COVID-19 has presented a unique challenge to our culture: How can we support each other as a community, while also keeping enough distance to protect one another? Across the country, we’ve seen an upswell of mutual support. But no matter how you slice it, a lot of people are going to be spending a lot of time alone.
This poses special risks for those who struggle with alcohol or substance abuse. Addiction is often a disease of isolation, and drinking is a common form of self-medication for anxiety, depression, and stress. Despite the fact that alcohol use usually makes these issues worse over time, it’s immediate effects may be a tempting way to ease the pain of fear and uncertainty.
Below is a short guide to managing drinking urges, and staying healthy during social distancing. From online support groups, to app-based treatment, there are thankfully many things you can do to limit your drinking during this crisis. If you’re struggling to moderate or stay sober, try one or all of the following. And if you think you need help, we’re always here.
Finding Support, and Keeping in Contact
One upside of a crisis that hits everyone is that it hits everyone. You’re not alone, and you may be surprised how much others may empathize, and be prepared to help. Reach out to the other people in your life via video chat, social media, texting, email, or voice call, and offer mutual support. Once you open these lines of communication, you may realize just how connected you really are.
If you’re concerned about your drinking, identify some good allies who are willing to help you stay accountable virtually. Agree to to message them if you’re having alcohol cravings, or arrange regular phone check-ins. You may also want to join a support group, if you haven’t already. Many in-person meetings are suspended due to social distancing measures, but are continuing online. Here are a few options to try:
Selected Online Support Group Meetings
Things to Do Instead of Drinking During Social Distancing
Isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and stress, but it can also just lead to plain old boredom. Here are some ways to stay occupied, distract yourself from drinking, and make the best of this enforced alone time:
Go for a run or a hike
If you’re in an area with access to nature, and it’s still permissible, take a walk or a jog by yourself. Get some fresh air, connect with the wider world, and clear your mind. So long as there aren’t many other people around, and you are not in a “shelter-in-place” community, this can be a great way to ease the stress of isolation.
Take an online group class
Your local yoga teacher, martial arts instructor, or personal trainer may be cancelling in-person workshops for the moment. But there’s a good chance they’re continuing online. If you can afford to join one of these remote classes, do so! It’s a great way to interact with a larger group safely, support your local teachers, and continue improving your own wellness.
Watch a digital performance
Just like many instructors, performing artists are finding ways to continue during social distancing. One band managed to play a show for over 13,000 people, 100 percent remotely via Twitch. If you’d usually attend live events, some of your favorite acts may still be performing—just online. And if you’re trying to avoid alcohol, not having to attend a bar to see live music may be a win-win!
Learn a new skill or hobby
Is there something you’ve been wanting to learn to do? Suddenly have free time? Go for it! There are online instructors for nearly everything. And if you’re on a budget, there are usually plenty of free resources if you search. Continue your education, or indulge in a new hobby. Get really good at something, and turn a setback into an opportunity.
Tools for Managing Cravings
Whether you’ve been sober for years, or you’re just beginning to cut back, stress and isolation can bring on intense drinking urges. Many of the above strategies—such as reaching out for support and finding alternative activities—can make a big difference. But it can also help to have methods for controlling cravings directly. Here are some effective things to try:
With roots in ancient Buddhist practice, mindfulness has become a buzzword in our culture, and has found its way into many recovery programs. Essentially, a mindfulness practice trains you to observe rather than react to thoughts, feelings, and events. When it comes to alcohol, this can allow you to simply watch cravings happen, and let them pass by on their own.
There are many ways to develop this skill, including regular meditation. One way to learn from home is to try one of these mindfulness apps.
Related to mindfulness practice, self-compassion is another key component in recovery, and is especially important in times of stress. When you feel frustrated with yourself, or upset with your current situation, make a habit of being kind to yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat a close friend who was struggling, remember that others are dealing with the same thing, and allow your emotions to come and go without judgement.
Read more: 3 Ways to Become More Self-Compassionate
Personal skills that help you manage drinking urges are key, but there’s also nothing wrong with taking medications to help. There are now several safe, effective options for reducing alcohol cravings, including naltrexone, acamprosate, baclofen, gabapentin, and topiramate. Online programs like Ria’s can put you in contact with physicians who can prescribe these medications safely, and help you find the right dosage.
Online Treatment Programs
If you’re struggling to cut back or stay abstinent from alcohol during social distancing, you might also consider an online program. The development of telemedicine means you can now access comprehensive treatment from home, using a smartphone app. Ria Health is one program that lets you talk with physicians online, access prescription medications, get regular coaching support, and even join virtual support groups.
Just as social distancing may give you the chance to learn a new skill, this may be a good time to finally make the change you’ve been thinking of around alcohol. Learn more about how we can help you reduce or quit drinking without having to leave your house.
Other Mental Health Support and Resources
At the end of the day, all aspects of personal health are connected. Caring for one’s mental health during hard times is key to sticking with recovery, and staying physically healthy in general. If anxiety, depression, or past trauma are at the root of your alcohol cravings, it may also help to deal with these issues directly.
There are a number of online therapy options to try. Talkspace is one popular choice, There are also more general telemedicine apps that offer access to therapy, including:
Finally, you might want to try one of these mental health apps. It could make your time away from others that much more manageable, and help prevent drinking urges from emerging in the first place.
These are difficult, unpredictable times for everyone. But with the right tools, the right resources, and a spirit of mutual care, we can all make it through. If you’re struggling with alcohol during social distancing, get in touch with a member of our team today, and find out how we can help.