'Addiction Wants Us To Be Alone': Finding Recovery In Isolation

The Addiction Policy Forum is bringing solutions to substance use disorder out of the shadows and putting support groups into cyberspace.
Posted at 5:14 PM, May 11, 2020

Across the country, there's another disease growing alongside coronavirus: addiction.

"In-person support meetings are canceled, treatment centers and counselors are curtailing appointments, and the barriers to overcoming addiction loom even larger," said Republican Senator John Cornyn. 

With lawmakers starting to take notice of growing barriers, solutions to substance abuse have now gone digital. 

"Anecdotally, we can tell you that we are seeing increased rates of overdoses, both reverse overdoses with Narcan as well as fatalities. We're seeing higher rates of alcohol and drug use as folks struggle with ways to cope with the fears and the isolation around the pandemic," revealed Jessica Hulsey, the founder of Addiction Policy Forum.

Hulsey's organization is dedicated to ending the stigma and translating the science around addiction. 

"I lost my parents to heroin use disorder. So, this has been my life's work to improve how we respond to addiction," shared Hulsey.

"I think sharing our stories and being honest about our own personal struggles as well as our family's struggle with this disease helps to bring this out of the shadows."

During the pandemic, the organization wants to take addiction recovery out of the shadows and into cyberspace. The Addiction Policy Forum invited us to a newly formed recovery meeting via Zoom for people in quarantine. 

The rules are simple: raise your hand to speak and what happens at recovery meetings stays at recovery meetings. 

Everyone in this story agreed to be filmed, is in recovery for some type of substance use disorder and works for Addiction Policy Forum. 

No topic was off limits — including evolving support systems, fears and turning past triggers into triumphs. 

"Certainly for me, the absence of having a meeting to go to is challenging. You really develop a special bond with the people that you're sharing such intimate knowledge and details with about your past," said a man named Jay.

A woman named Kayla opened up, "This whole situation brought up a crap load of fear, you know. If I'm in that fear, then like, it can bring me to that dark place where I'm like, I just want relief. What do I get relief from? Drugs and alcohol."

"For me, it's just, I'm a little bored. I haven't smoked cigarettes in eleven years, and you know what, I'll be like, 'I'm going to stir something up. I'm a little bored. Maybe I'll get some cigarettes!' Oh my God, where did that come from?" laughed a woman named Sue.

The relatable joke spurred the group to share Sue's sentiment.

"What's that old saying that the most dangerous part of your body is that six inches from your neck up? You've got to get out of your head sometimes," said Jay.

The Addiction Policy Forum points to several resources ranging on one's access.

Need to talk to other people who get it? Join a Zoom meeting. 

No Wi-Fi? Call them at 833-301-HELP.

Don't feel like talking? Try texting via their Connections app, which can also point people to other resources like educational videos, therapy or getting medicine like Naloxone. 

The organization wants the millions who are struggling to know that self-isolation should not mean a lack of support. It also does not want the discussion surrounding substance use disorder to feel scary. 

The support group bolstered that mission. 

"There should not be any stigma to relapsing. There should not be a stigma to the bumps in the road that you're inevitably going to hit, but just continue sticking with it, as cliché and trite as that sounds. Keep sticking with it," said Jay. 

"I would tell myself not to hate myself so much because I know, definitely in my addiction, I hated the person I was. And so really, I try to encourage myself to love myself and know that just because I make mistakes doesn't mean I am a mistake," shared Kayla. 

Hulsey echoed that notion, too. 

"You are not a burden. Anyone who is struggling — there are supports available today. And, if you aren't connected with supports or treatment, this is a perfect time to tackle that."