WVU professor discusses effects of social distancing on addiction recovery


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The effects of social distancing and self-quarantine are weighing on all Americans, but a WVU expert in addiction studies suggests that people with substance use disorders who are in recovery may be more vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Frankie Tack, clinical assistant professor and addiction studies minor coordinator at the West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services, said that among the key tools for individuals in recovery, especially those in the early stages, are forming connections and establishing community, which are difficult to employ during a pandemic.

“Isolation tends to be a feature of addiction,” Tack said. “The isolating environment created by social distancing can create triggers for individuals who remember days at home alone when they used drugs.”

Tack adds that other features of self-quarantine and social distancing, including boredom, decreased accountability and negative emotional states, can also create triggers that can lead to the resumption of substance use.

“Negative emotional states are the biggest collective source of triggers for resuming substance use, and people in recovery often confuse emotional states with cravings,” Tack said. “We are all experiencing feelings of fear, anxiety, anger and hopelessness, and we worry about individuals in recovery, especially those who are early in the process, who may be experiencing some or all of these emotions as a result of the pandemic. They may feel like they have taken important steps in recovery and are now losing control.”

Since many recovery programs include peer support components that are enhanced by personal interactions, individuals in recovery may have decreased accountability and support in the current climate, according to a release from WVU.

“Peer support has accountability built in,” Tack said. “Individuals in recovery are typically surrounded by people who know about their recovery and can provide them feedback if they appear to be abandoning their recovery plans. While virtual connections are still possible, it’s hard to beat face-to-face interaction.”

Despite these challenges, Tack said she sees great resilience in the recovery community.

“Virtual support of all types is springing up and people are being very creative in meeting their recovery management needs,” Tack said.

Tack said she urges individuals who want to start their recovery journeys not to allow the pandemic to prevent them from seeking help.

“Don’t let this virus keep you from seeking recovery,” Tack said. “If now is your moment, seize it and don’t wait.”

West Virginia residents who need help with a substance use disorder or a mental health issue can contact HELP4WV for 24/7 assistance through call, chat or text.

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