Recovery in Times of Social Distancing

by Rista Luna, MA
Admissions Outreach Coordinator
Continuum Recovery Services

In the last month, our lives have radically changed, challenging us to find new and creative ways to socialize, work, and care for each other. For those struggling with alcoholism and other substance use disorders, active involvement and fellowship with a community of peers are key to recovery. However, social distancing has required self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Refuge Recovery, and Narcotics Anonymous to move their supportive, safe, and welcoming communities to the digital space.

Continuum asked members of these communities to share how they’re navigating recovery, and maintaining hope and resilience, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

  • DK is a 25-year-old college student who’s been in recovery for the past 2 years. He lives with his girlfriend who is a health care worker, and is currently working and going to school from home. His mother was recently discharged from a rehabilitation facility and is starting her journey of recovery during these times of social distancing.
  • JR is a 64-year-old man with 26 years in recovery. He is also married to a health care worker, and his small business is currently on hold because of the pandemic. He sponsors many people and attends meetings regularly. He recently lost his own sponsor to the COVID -19 pandemic.
  • Dr. Eric Collins MD is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. Dr. Collins is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, and addiction medicine. He has published more than 25 articles and book chapters on addiction. Currently, Dr. Collins maintains a private practice of general and addiction psychiatry in both New York and Connecticut. He is also the Immediate Past President of the New York Society of Addiction Medicine.

What has been different for you during this time?
“Not being able to hug and see everybody at the meetings,” DK immediately answers. Human contact and fellowship are integral to the recovery community. Most people in recovery “come early and stay late,” which is difficult now that meetings are hosted online.  Dr. Collins adds that people in recovery have lost access to many healthy coping strategies – going to the gym and grabbing a post-meeting coffee with friends are no longer options.

This lack of access, on top of added stressors like employment concerns, finances, and child care, jeopardizes recovery for those that are not vigilant.

Are Zoom meetings enough?
“Well, it fulfills the need, but I don’t think so,” JR honestly answers. However, meeting online makes it easier to attend multiple meetings. DK and JR attend more meetings than ever before. DK very adamantly shares, “Tell everybody to double up on their meetings – that works!” Dr. Collins says that many of his clients – especially those in long time recovery – are also participating in more meetings.

What other activities do you recommend for people in recovery during these times?
“The basics: FaceTime, step work, prayer, and meetings,” says DK. Both JR and DK agree that keeping in touch with people in recovery is a “must”. JR adds, “Don’t isolate. Reach out.” Dr. Collins clients are engaging in more online social activities that keep them connected, and faithfully attending their telehealth appointments. He believes that easy access to these basic tools and services, including medication-assisted therapy, is particularly important when other resources and treatments are not available.


Have you lost anyone to COVID-19? How has social isolation affected your experience?
DK’s girlfriend lost 2 close family members, and JR lost his sponsor of 26 years – all to COVID-19. They both describe mourning someone from afar as an “incomplete experience,” compared to more traditional rituals like wakes and funerals, which have either been postponed or attended virtually. Recovery communities offer people space to mourn and get support. Both DK and JR’s friends in recovery have made themselves more available to provide support. “My sponsor got a Zoom account and now we run meetings 5 times per week,” shares DK.

Has social distancing affected your sponsor-sponsee relationships?
“The bottom line is that I am doing more. I’m making it to more meetings, and I’m calling more people, especially my sponsor,” says DK. Dr. Collins hears similar reports from his clients. “People in long-term recovery are reaching out more and making themselves more available to those who need them.” 

Have you noticed any unexpected improvements now that most social contact is online?
Dr. Collins says the majority of his clients are finding it easy to access more meetings and connect to more people. Physical distance is not an issue when meetings are held online. “The cool part is that we get to go to meetings with people that we don’t normally see,” says DK, who has been reconnecting with friends that have relocated, as well as meeting people from across the country.

JR has attended Zoom meetings in California, and even Europe.

What do you recommend for those who are new to recovery during these times?
“That is a challenge,” says JR. “I’ve been telling the newcomers to our meetings to stick around.” Both DK and JR agree that it is very important for people in long-term recovery to reach out to the people who are new to the process. “Call them instead of only telling them to call you. Let them know that they are important,” says JR. Dr. Collins has noticed similar attitudes amongst his clients in long-term recovery. “They know that they must be available, and they are.”

As we continue to navigate the unfamiliar waters of social distancing, we will likely learn more about providing community spaces and professional services for those looking to recover. Hearing about what’s already happening among those “in the trenches” makes me hopeful –not only for the survival of the many recovery communities, but also for those just starting their journey.

Continuum of Care, Inc.’s mission is to enable people who are challenged with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, addiction, or homelessness to rebuild a meaningful life and thrive in the community.