The COVID-19 virus presents unique challenges for people already struggling in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, according to local counselors and pastors.
In addition to sickness and death, the pandemic has caused many non-essential businesses to shut down. The devastating result is that since mid-March, more than 15 million American lost their jobs, according to a report by USA Today. If that trend continues, the unemployment rate could climb to nearly 16 percent, according to estimates by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
Counselors say if a recovering alcoholics or addicts finds themselves facing a layoff, it would mean extra pressure and possible relapse.
Dr. Leon Edwards, a licensed clinical social worker, said he works with many people in recovery and that having a job helps them stay sober because it gives them something to focus on besides drinking or taking drugs.
“I have one client who is a waiter,” Edwards said. “They can’t wait on anyone. This person depends on family and friends (for extra money) until this thing is lifted.”
So far, Edwards said his patient has kept busy working the drive-through and helping out in the kitchen on his job.
He said he has other patients who have had their hours reduced, but are still working.
Edwards said jobs provide an anchor for people in recovery and losing that anchor can help cause them to relapse.
This is especially true if they don’t talk about their layoff or their struggles with alcohol and drugs with a self-help group, sponsor or anyone else.
Edwards said patients should talk about a job loss and the stress it generates with other people as much as possible because, “the more you talk about it the less power it has over you…
“I try to get them to look at the positive aspects, getting more time to spend with their family, getting to do that project they want to do but haven’t had the time for,” he said.
“I always preach to the clients that I serve, have open dialogue with your spouse,” Edwards said, “Be as transparent as possible. You have one time to mess things up.”
Edwards said there are also online support groups and other online services like Zoom that allow people to have virtual meetings to share their thoughts and concerns.
Ray Smith, admissions coordinator for the Oaks at La Paloma, said staying sober while facing a layoff or other hardship because of the COVID-19 virus can depend on where someone is or how far they are in their recovery.
“Are they mentally prepared to deal with this,” he said. “They may be nervous and anxious like everybody else. They may need some extra help.”
Dr. Stacy L. Spencer, senior pastor of New Direction Christian Church, said COVID-19 has caused unique problems for everyone. He said the virus and the lost jobs and other negative effects it causes provide challenges.
But he said there are ways we can stay connected, through the internet, and support each other.
“AA and groups like it help keep alcoholics and addicts accountable,” he said, about self-help groups.
Spencer said it is time to “be innovative” in thinking of ways to stay together as a community and giving each other support during these stressful times.