Addiction Treatment and Recovery in a Time of Social Distancing and Coronavirus

Times are strange. With the constantly developing national and global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, people with addiction and mental health disorders may experience unique challenges with self-quarantine and isolation. We’ve had many calls to our Admissions Counsellors to discuss our infection prevention plan and learn about the precautionary measures that we’re taking to protect our patients in addiction treatment from coronavirus. People are concerned. The media is both helpful and harmful. Governments are scrambling to save our healthcare system and the economy.

Addiction and Mental Health Disorders Are Currently More Lethal Than Coronavirus

The fact remains that about 6 million Canadians will meet the criteria for addiction over the course of their lives. One-in-five Canadians will experience symptoms of depression. In 2016, someone died in Ontario of an opioid overdose every 10 hours. The mental health of Canadians is being taxed more than ever given the panic-buying, self-quarantines, and economic instability that come with a pandemic. While many citizens are doing their part by social distancing, this strategy has the unfortunate consequence of causing people to second-guess their decisions to get residential (inpatient) addiction and mental health treatment due to fears of coronavirus infection. We’ve had many calls over the past while from potential patients and their families asking us what measures we’re taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus in our facilities.

To those people, our answer is the following—don’t delay addiction treatment because of coronavirus.

As an important note, we are not looking to profit from the panic and suffering created by this disease. We are a healthcare facility above all, and it is our duty to provide the best care for our patients who have mental health and substance use disorders. We offer life-saving treatment for patients, and getting treatment quickly, like for any other lethal disease, is a matter of life and death—addiction treatment is an essential service. We have great concern that some of our current and potential patients will suffer greatly due to coronavirus, and we are doing the best we can to help anyone who needs treatment for addiction and mental health disorders.

As a healthcare facility, we’re taking the strictest approach that we can. We’re providing daily updates on our website on the infection prevention measures that we’re taking at our facilities. As the coronavirus risk changes from day to day, we’re adapting and increasing our measures accordingly. We’ve instructed groups of non-essential staff to work from home. We’re bringing as many of our services online as possible. We’re increasing social distancing measures in our group meetings by using only the largest rooms in our facilities so that patients can have appropriate space. Since we’re healthcare providers, we have doctors and nurses on staff daily, and we can provide excellent medical care as needed.

Addiction Treatment in Emergency Rooms Is Risky Right Now

It may be even more dangerous than usual to avoid or delay addiction treatment during this time. One of the greatest advantages of being in residential treatment is to have complete medical care without having to be in the emergency room. If someone is at home and suffers a crisis or an overdose, they would be sent to their nearest emergency department, where risk of infection by coronavirus is increased due to exposure to others with the infection. With the increasing overwhelm of our public healthcare system, emergency and ICU beds will be increasingly hard to come by. While we hope that the situation improves as quickly as possible, we fear that it may not be in time to spare the lives of Canadians who would needlessly suffer due to the coronavirus. While in treatment, our patients can go through detox without fearing the risk of contracting coronavirus—they can get their medications without having to go to their doctor’s office and risk additional exposure.

Self-Distancing Can Trigger People with Addiction

While many people are remaining in their homes, for individuals with addictions or in recovery, this situation can create difficult challenges. Self-distancing can present unique problems for people with substance use and mental health disorders. As people quarantine themselves from the outside world, isolation and loneliness have well-established negative consequences on people’s physical and mental-emotional well-being.

In addiction circles, we know that community is critical to achieving and maintaining healthy recovery—that’s why we offer aftercare groups for our alumni. That’s also why we host community support group meetings and refer our patients to groups in their communities when they finish treatment. Social distancing, self-quarantine, and other forms of isolation will be damaging to the recovery of our patients and alumni. Some people risk relapse, while others risk increased drug or alcohol consumption if they are alone at home and not working. One of our patients recently said, “I can’t self isolate—I need to be in a safe place and talk to people who are dealing with the same issues as I am.” Another patient noted, “I’ve been in a basement for four years dealing with my Trauma. I am just getting starting to get over that—going back to that basement is the worst thing I could do.”

I can’t self isolate—I need to be in a safe place and talk to people who are dealing with the same issues as I am.

Furthermore, if someone is self-quarantined with a family member with a substance use or mental health disorder, there can be unintended negative consequences. Someone with an addiction may also be forced to detox if their drug or alcohol supply sources become scarce—a potentially dangerous event if not managed properly by a doctor. On the brighter side, some people may take the opportunity imposed by scarcity and try to quit on their own. If anyone finds themselves in this position and feels that they need some help, we have some new options available that can help patients benefit from group treatment while also honouring their obligations to self-quarantine. While the best option is to get residential treatment, we understand the need to meet our patients wherever they are right now.

Addiction Increases the Risk of Coronavirus Exposure, Infection, and Complications

Smoking drugs, such as crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and also tobacco, increase a person’s vulnerability to lung infections. Chronic use of alcohol or opioids are also associated with an increased risk of lung disease. Chronic use of alcohol and most illicit drugs damage many organs in the body, and compromise an individual’s immune system, making them more vulnerable to infections and diseases of all types. For these reasons, individuals currently with addictions or substance use disorders are especially vulnerable to coronavirus infection if they are exposed to the virus. Likewise, these individuals are also more likely to develop severe symptoms and complications if they get infected.

People with addictions and substance use disorders are already a vulnerable and stigmatized group. For the reasons described above, they are also more vulnerable to coronavirus exposure, infection, and complications. If you currently suffer from addiction, then a residential treatment facility that follows best practices for Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) and that has a 24/7 medical team may very well be the safest place for you during the coronavirus pandemic—with the added benefit of starting your recovery process towards a happier, healthier, and more satisfying life.

Residential Treatment Is a Safer Place During Coronavirus

From an insider’s perspective, many of our patients feel safer from coronavirus in addiction treatment than they would feel outside of our facilities. After all, residential treatment is a place for self-care and to learn lifelong skills to weather the effects of stress while leaning on a community for support. Many of our patients reflect on the urgency with which they needed to get care. Some of our patients have failing livers and kidneys, overburdened hearts, and breathing issues due to lifelong addictions, and are therefore at a higher risk should they become infected with coronavirus. One of our Edgewood staff members shared the following:

We were in a group doing a Monday morning check-in in the CTAP [concurrent trauma and addiction] program. The topic of the COVID-19 issue came up. Several patients discussed looking forward to getting home with family, but indicated their desire to complete the program as their first priority. One patient said, “I waited so long to come to treatment that my liver had to be almost shut down before I asked for help.” I posited that more people will die from addiction during the COVID situation than from the virus. The entire group nodded in agreement and then one said, “I’m more afraid of my addiction than I am of COVID-19, I won’t get my family back if I don’t get sober.”

I’m more afraid of my addiction than I am of COVID-19, I won’t get my family back if I don’t get sober.

Our patients are here because they need treatment, and we’re going to continue helping as many people as we can.

Virtual Groups and Aftercare During Coronavirus

We know that not everyone needs residential (inpatient) treatment, and we also know that some community members may be suffering due to the economic impact of coronavirus. You are not alone, and we’re sensitive to this problem. Luckily, we’ve been offering our Wagon online programs to patients for some time. Now, we’ve moved our intensive outpatient programs (IOP), aftercare, and regular outpatient programs, in addition to virtual Cake Nights, to this online platform. By using Wagon, our patients, alumni and community members can continue to have excellent addiction and mental health care, even if they need to quarantine themselves. While the ideal situation is for anyone who needs addiction treatment to be able to come to our facilities, we want to reach out and help as best we can in these unprecedented times.

To learn more about Wagon, or how our facilities are constantly adapting to coronavirus to keep patients and their families safe, please call us at one of the numbers below.

You can also find out more about Wagon online outpatient services on our Wagon page.

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