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‘Relapsing Left and Right’: Trying to Overcome Addiction in a Pandemic

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Clients struggled with the loss of their in-person support groups.

“What is more supportive than walking into a room and seeing a human you can touch?” asked one client, Maureen. “What’s been missing is body language, our ability to hug each other. All that stuff is important when people are going through the difficult experience of getting off drugs or alcohol.”

Some positives have come from virtual care. John Driscoll, head of recovery services at Hazelden Betty Ford, said the number of patients choosing to attend sessions biweekly has doubled. The organization’s recovery program for families, which used to be local, is now on video and open to families around the globe, serving more than 2,500 people since the summer.

Still, the emotional connections formed through in-person treatment are difficult to replicate on the computer. A recent study published in Drug and Alcohol Review found that a sense of loneliness can amplify the risk of drug and alcohol abuse in people with substance-use disorders.

“I had this image of what the rest of my life would look like with communities I could relate to, meetings I could go to for in-person accountability,” said Emily, 30, who left the program at the Alina Lodge recovery center in New Jersey in September. “Now I have to sit in my room by myself with a computer, which is how I got sick.”

Emily is now participating in a virtual recovery program.

Another woman who had been treated at Alina Lodge and Haley House, Sarah Manfredo, said every milestone she’d envisioned for herself evaporated after family visits and outside jobs were prohibited because of the pandemic.

Ms. Manfredo, 36, left the addiction treatment center in August and moved in with a fellow alumna of the program, who immediately relapsed. Few of the women she went through treatment with have stayed sober, an outcome that she attributes largely to the pandemic. “People are relapsing left and right,” Ms. Manfredo said. “The loneliness plays into it.”

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