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Recovery and relapse: Staying sober while self-isolating during a pandemic

As immunocompromised individuals shelter in place and essential workers armor themselves with masks and gloves each day to stay safe, other groups in the general population face different obstacles during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

By Zara Flores

Addiction is not a choice

With a potential lack of structure thanks to layoffs and a change in ways support group meetings are held due to the ban on large gatherings, individuals struggling with addiction or recovery may find themselves in a more vulnerable position.

The transition to working from home, or not working at all, coupled with the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus is undoubtedly causing stress across the country, even as people begin receiving unemployment benefits and their stimulus checks. 

According to the American Addiction Center, isolation can be a trigger for relapse in recovering addicts. Ordinarily, this type of isolation applies to individuals lacking a strong support system and those who don’t attend peer support groups. However, in the time of coronavirus, that can very easily become the norm—but there’s still a way to stay sane and sober.

A switch flipped

Just as our professors and students, hospitals and counselors are working to adapt to the coronavirus restrictions. Ben Gibbins, a chemical dependency counselor at Charter Oak Hospital in Covina and senior at Cal State Fullerton, is studying the mental health track of human services and working to figure out how to continue to be a resource for addicts during the pandemic.

I fear what the end result might be for someone who is trying to work through addiction and don’t have the support they need because groups aren’t being held in person,” said Gibbins. 

As a sober individual of four and a half years, Gibbins pushes the importance of education and the disease model of addiction in which there is a biological and/or neurological change in the brain.

A large tool of support for addicts is knowing there is someone they can count on, whether it’s a trusted family member or a sponsor, said Gibbins. 

But working through the struggles of addiction isn’t an easy task if all you’re doing is picking up on doing a twelve-step program. The inner workings and support system offered at meetings and rehab services are a crucial element to recovery.

Road to recovery

Despite the lack of in-person meetings, individuals in recovery are still finding a way to stay on track despite shut downs.

CSUF has fully transitioned to virtual instruction, like many other universities and companies across the country. Likewise, recovery meetings are being held online to help those in whichever stage they may be of their recovery journey. 

Jose Carlos Castro, a junior at CSUF and a sober individual of six years, has utilized and attended online meetings through Project Rebound.

Project Rebound has been vital to Castro’s education and recovery, providing a sense of stability, responsibility, and advocacy. Though not currently in a twelve-step  program, he still lives by the testaments and principles learned along the journey as a coping mechanism to deal with stress.

As he works from home, Castro acknowledges he is not faced with stress bearing more weight than usual, but knows it’s bound to affect others in recovery. 

“I always recognize that I am not ‘cured’ nor will I ever be, but it has always been my top priority along with my education, my partner, our kids, my health and, of course, my career,” said Castro about his sobriety.

As the coronavirus continues to cause more restrictions, closures, and cancellations, resources are more scarce than ever which is why it’s more important than ever to utilize and share them when applicable. 

If you or someone you know is in need of addiction and recovery resources, you can click here for more information.

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