Expert reveals how recovering alcoholics can work through sobriety during quarantine

Between nightly “quarantinis” and frequent Zoom happy hours, it’s no surprise there has been a nearly 250 percent increase in alcohol sales during the coronavirus pandemic.

But while an occasional social-distance drink (or two) can prove harmless for some people, for others, especially those who have struggled with addiction in the past, the habit can quickly spiral into substance abuse, explains Tim Ryan, a recovery advocate for Rehab.com and the subject of A&E documentary “Dope Man.”

“You have people that are sheltering in place and, after work, they might have a couple drinks at night,” Ryan, a recovered heroin addict, told In The Know. “Now it’s at three o’clock. Now it’s at 1 o’clock. Now they’re starting to drink at 10:00 in the morning.”

Credit: Tim Ryan

For those already recovering from substance abuse during the pandemic, isolation can present a brand new challenge, according to Ryan. With a lack of a daily schedule, a lot more free time and minimal in-person support, former addicts are at a heightened risk of relapsing.

In fact, Rehab.com reports a 382 percent increase in website traffic amid quarantine, while calls to mental health and abuse hotlines in the U.S. have seen an astounding 891 percent uptick.

“What we have going on now is a pandemic within a pandemic,” Ryan explains. “With COVID-19, people are living in fear. There’s a lot more anxiety. But what a lot of people are doing is starting to mask the symptoms with alcohol and drug abuse.”

In light of these issues, Ryan shared with In The Know his tips on how to keep from relapsing in quarantine, how to spot a loved one who may be abusing and the best online resources to seek help.

Working Through Sobriety In Quarantine

When it comes to substance abuse recovery, down time is the enemy.

“What people need are purpose and connection,” Ryan explains. “Even if they’re not in recovery, (people) need purpose and connection.”

Right now, with most of the world in lockdown, people can feel more alone and meaningless than ever before, which can cause dangerous habits to creep back up.

“Take the individual that’s six months sober or a year sober,” Ryan notes. “That’s a huge accomplishment.”

However, he adds that when that person cannot go to their weekly support meetings or get a six-month or one-year coin to mark the milestone, the scale of the achievement can feel cut back significantly.

On top of that, recovering addicts in quarantine may find themselves with no solid routine and an abundance of downtime — a trap Ryan warns is easy to fall into.

“With everything shut down, you have to readjust” he advises. “Don’t be sleeping until 10:00, 11:00 o’clock because you have nothing to do — still get up early. Eat a healthy breakfast. Pray and meditate. Workout. Even if it’s 10 pushups and 10 situps a day. You need to keep your mind active.”

He also encourages those on the road to recovery to try and maintain a positive mindset, as difficult as it may seem.

“Turn off a lot of the negativity because it can be that one catalyst that says, ‘You know what, I’m going to have a drink,’ and you’re off to the races again,” he explains. “This is the only disease that will tell you you’re cured, and then Pandora’s box is open.”

“If you’re in a dark place and you’re thinking of using…you need to tell on yourself,” he continues. “Picked up your phone, use FaceTime, reach out to people because, ultimately, you’re only as sick as your secrets.”

‘If you baby an addict, you’re going to bury ’em.’

It’s scary to think you may have loved ones struggling to cope with addiction without you even knowing, but, sadly, it’s entirely possible.

Ryan points out a few red flags to be on the lookout for when checking in virtually.

“If you’re FaceTiming with a friend and they’re slurring their words a little bit and it’s noon, chances are there is an issue,” he reveals. “To be aware is to be alive. If you know something’s up, chances are something’s up.”  

Once you’ve begun to suspect there may be a substance abuse issue at hand, Ryan says it’s important to confront your loved one directly, albeit “through love and grace.”

“One of my mottos is, ‘If you baby an addict, you’re going to bury ’em,'” he reveals. “People are at home now, they’re using more, but nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room. Well, that elephant in the room has no reason to change. They’ve got a roof over their head, clothes on the back, food on the table. There’s really no accountability. So if I was in that situation, I’m going to keep doing what I do until I’m confronted.”

‘Look for the resources.’

However, starting that conversation is often just the first step in a long journey — a lot of the time, Ryan says people need to seek a professional interventionist or a counselor or a therapist to “really help guide and direct you through that process.”

He recommends Rehab.com, which has over 35,000 licensed treatment providers and allows users to search under specific criteria in order to find a rehab program that’s right for them or their loved ones.

“You can fill out a 30-second questionnaire, whether you have no insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, in-network, out-of-network,” Ryan explains. “It will give you at least three resources within 30 seconds and all you have to do is ask for help. We’ve actually done interventions virtually, substance abuse treatment virtually. It’s out there, it’s available. People just need to look.”

‘Stop digging the hole.’

Above all, Ryan reassures that global quarantine will one day come to an end, a truth that may be particularly difficult to grasp for those struggling to cope with addiction.

“You know this is temporary,” he says. “And, unfortunately, when people are in the grips of alcoholism or addiction, they don’t think there is a way out.”

“All you’ve got to do is stop digging,” he adds. “Stop digging the hole. Drop the shovel. If you have a heartbeat, you have hope. All you gotta do is put your hand up and ask for help and there are thousands of people that will be there to guide and direct you to help guide you on the road to recovery.”

Looking for additional support? The Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous (OIAA) features hundreds of meetings in various formats and languages, happening 24/7, for free.

If you enjoyed this article, check out this 26-year-old CEO’s tips to staying sober during quarantine.

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