Yes, we’ve all heard the grim news: In the midst of the pandemic, addiction struggles are on the rise. More than 40 states have reported increases in overdose deaths from drugs, alarming health professionals.
But here’s a story the news outlets have missed: Plenty of people with substance use disorder (SUD) are actually thriving in recovery. Right now. Right in the middle of a pandemic.
It’s true that the hallmarks of the COVID-19 crisis — isolation, anxiety, job loss, boredom — are the very triggers for addiction and relapse, so the overdose statistics are not surprising. But none of this means the pandemic is a barrier to recovery.
September marks the observance of National Recovery Month, a celebration of those living in recovery. Here at Ideal Option, we have plenty to celebrate this year, despite all the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the consequences.
“Every day, I see evidence of energy and life and happiness,” says Geoff Godfrey, addiction medicine specialist in Washington State.
Geoff hosts the popular “Recovery Gone Viral” Facebook Live events. Each weekday at 9am PST, folks with substance use disorder join in the lively discussion. Some prefer to remain a “fly on the wall,” absorbing other people’s stories. Others actively participate, cheering on those who are new to recovery and those who have yet to make the leap.
“I’m scared — I don’t know if I’m ready for this yet,” one woman posted.
“You’ve got this!!” another commented. “Hold on, because freedom is worth it!!”
Freedom from addiction is what patients work hard every day to achieve, through a combination of medication such as Suboxone and social support.
Suboxone provides that “normal feeling” — that relief from nausea and anxiety, from intense cravings and the compulsion to seek opioids and other substances at all costs. It’s what allows a brain hijacked by drug use to gradually regain clarity and stability.
Social support is the other key ingredient to recovery. “Suboxone is a wonderful tool, but you need that fellowship too,” says Geoff.
Though the pandemic has thrown up obstacles to social connections, it has also sparked new opportunities, such as online support meetings and unconventional gatherings online such as Recovery Gone Viral.
“In this time of social isolation, there’s this wonderful explosion of self-worth and kindness,” says Geoff. “We’re all catalysts for one another. We’re not really distanced.”
National Recovery Month, now in its 31st year, not only honors the recovery community but also serves to educate the public that SUD is a disease of brain chemistry, not a moral failing.
“Patients are subject to so much stigma,” says Jeff Allgaier, M.D., co-founder of Ideal Option.
“They’re called ‘drug seekers’ and ‘junkies’ and feel undeserving of treatment. This attitude continues to be pervasive, even among healthcare providers.”
At a recent event observing National Recovery Month, one Ideal Option patient in Maryland told Congressman David Trone: “People don’t realize it’s tough on us. We don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘Addiction is what I want.’”
In addition to facing judgment about addiction, many patients also are shamed for taking Suboxone, as if their disease is somehow less worthy of medical treatment than diabetes or any other chronic disease. Suboxone is often considered a “crutch,” despite rock-solid evidence it reduces the odds of relapse and saves lives.
During National Recovery Month we not only celebrate lives saved but lives rebuilt, with all the tools, support, and love available to patients at Ideal Option.