Did you know that wired right into the threat-detection centers of our brains, we have a neural alarm that goes off in response to prolonged periods of social isolation? It warns us that we have a need going unfulfilled. Conversely, social connection fires up the motivation and reward centers of our brains. Increasingly, studies are showing us that social connection is a basic human need, right along with food, water, and shelter.
Hence, it’s understandable why some of us may struggle in this period of necessary self-isolation due to coronavirus COVID19. Isolation gives rise to all sorts of emotions, triggers, and challenges to everyone, and especially to those of us in recovery. The stress of being pulled away from our families, our friends, our workplaces, and our recovery communities has been crushing for many of us. Famously, British journalist Johann Hari said, “the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety—it’s connection.” Yet here we are in times of coronavirus, anxious that we all must isolate, against our biological needs.
The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety—it’s connection.
“Social Distancing” Is Not a Useful Term
In the rush to get an important message out, our government encouraged us to practice “social distancing”—defaulting to a technical term from research literature that’s unclear in its practical meaning. Really what they wanted was for us to physically distance from one another. It is so important during this time that we hold fast and tight to our social connections. Now, more than ever, during this time of fear, uncertainty, and worry, it is vital that we pull together as communities and access every creative way available to connect. Neighbours must work together, to check in on the elderly and to aid one another with supplies as we isolate. It has been incredible to see people band together and react with creativity, innovation, and flexibility to ensure that vulnerable individuals continue to get access to care.
Aftercare Is Critical for Successful Long-Term Recovery
At EHN Canada, you’ll often hear us talking about how strongly we believe that a solid aftercare plan (also known as continuing care) is the key for successful long-term recovery. Scientific evidence shows that we cannot reduce addiction recovery to a biomedical process—we need to approach it from a biopsychosocial perspective (otherwise known as a holistic perspective). We must treat the whole person which means addressing a person’s biological, psychological, and social needs.
You’ll also often hear us repeating that a person in recovery needs at least one, but ideally two, recovery support group meetings per week to maintain the gains that they made in a residential or intensive outpatient program (IOP). To draw a parallel to other physical health conditions, aftercare is like physiotherapy after a knee surgery. To develop the strength and healthy function of that new knee, you must regularly and consistently perform rehab exercises, and periodically check in with your physiotherapist—otherwise, the knee will remain forever vulnerable to reinjury. In other words, you have to keep participating in aftercare to keep up your recovery—even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Wagon Provides Online Counselling, Support Groups, and Other Outpatient Services
When coronavirus concerns began limiting in-person visits and group gatherings across the EHN Canada network, we jumped into gear. We needed to ensure that everyone throughout our continuum of care, across our entire network, would be kept safe and maintain their recovery during the coronavirus pandemic. Intuitively, we turned to the Wagon App for solutions to provide online counselling and support groups.
Developed in 2015, Wagon isn’t new to EHN Canada. Providing a range of online services including assessments, individual counselling, support groups, group therapy, and long-term outpatient programs, Wagon’s online therapeutic platform was built to provide convenience and accessibility to anyone who can’t access in-person outpatient services. Wagon was developed with consideration that people come to EHN’s residential treatment programs from all across Canada, or anywhere else in the world. As of 2019, all EHN Canada patients were provided Wagon as part of their aftercare. That way everyone, no matter where they were, could have that lifeline for their recovery.
Wagon uses secure video-conferencing technology to provide a variety of online outpatient programs, such as individual counselling and support groups, similar to what would be provided by a physical outpatient clinic location. Every program includes a personalized recovery plan and a counsellor is assigned to each Wagon user to monitor their progress. All Wagon counsellors are experienced and registered psychotherapists, social workers, or clinical counsellors
If Wagon was a person, this would be their moment in the spotlight. Already a veteran in hosting online medical appointments and aftercare groups, Wagon is ready to help us fill in the gaps created by the coronavirus pandemic. EHN Canada provides essential services—there is no question. As the coronavirus continues to infect more people across Canada, we strongly believe that it’s our duty to help take pressure off the overwhelming demand being placed on emergency and acute care services across our communities. EHN Canada will continue to accept patients and step up in any way we can.
Living with the coronavirus pandemic is our current reality and it may be for some time. We must all continue to do our parts to slow down coronavirus transmission by physical distancing. By being careful, we can do our part in flattening the curve. As the recommendations from public health authorities are becoming more strict, we can adapt to our new reality by using innovations like Wagon. The more we adapt, the more prepared we are for whatever the future may hold. We are all in this together.
For more information about what EHN Canada is doing to keep our patients safe during the coronavirus pandemic visit our coronavirus action plan page.
 California Institute of Technology. (2018, May 17). How social isolation transforms the brain: A particular neural chemical is overproduced during long-term social isolation, causing increased aggression and fear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 1, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180517113856.htm