Recovery in Isolation

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Recovery in Isolation

07 April, 2020Articles, News

Since Thursday 26 March South Africa has been in a national lockdown. This is not a situation unique to South Africans, as many countries all over the world are in similar circumstances in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. These situations are difficult to navigate, for people from all walks of life, but for addicts, alcoholics, and people in recovery it presents a unique challenge. How do I stay clean/sober in isolation? It is a difficult question, and the short answer is this; exactly how you did prior to the lockdown.

Addiction and alcoholism are chronic diseases and do not stop being life-threatening just because there is a bigger threat presenting itself. This blog post will go on to explain how to navigate recovery in a world that is drastically different to the one that existed a few short weeks ago.

How has the lock down affected rehab centres

The day before the lockdown the Department of Social Development said that rehabilitation centres are an essential service and are to remain open during the lockdown period. Screening measures are to be put in place at all facilities to ensure the safety and continuous treatment of persons within these centres.

Basically, it boils down to this: help is available and rehab centres are a safe environment to be in.

How the government lockdown may affect those in active addiction/ alcoholism

One of the more extreme measures that have been put into place during this period is the prohibition of the sale of alcohol. Now the average heavy drinker or potential alcoholic may have stocked up before the liquor stores closed, but if this decree inspired in you a sense of dread and fear at the prospect of not being able to obtain alcohol – or a mad dash to the pharmacy or drug dealer, a closer look at the subject may be needed.

To an alcoholic or drug addict, no circumstance is quite so frightening as the possibility of being separated from their substance of choice. Subconsciously, the addict seeks these substances out as if they were critical to their survival, and in some cases they are. Certain drugs (including alcohol, over the counter medication, as well as prescription medication), when used in large quantities over long periods of time will cause withdrawal symptoms in users when they are stopped suddnely. Should you or a loved one start experiencing any of the following: clammy skin, dilated pupils, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, or “the shakes”, it is imperative that help be sought as soon as possible. If withdrawal persists, (the more serious symptoms include seizures and possible coma), this can have long-term adverse health consequences and may even cause death.

Should the lockdown result in the sudden stoppage of any drugs, alcohol or medications, it is best to find a safe place with trained staff to deal with this problem, rather than going it cold turkey at home alone.  The health risks are too great and it has been proven, time and time again, that people who enter treatment programs have a much higher chance of maintaining long term recovery.

How government lock down will affect those in recovery

Accountability has always been a cornerstone of personal recovery. With a lockdown in place, it suddenly becomes a lot easier for people to neglect their responsibilities. For people in recovery this may mean a variety of things, from putting off step-work, not connecting with our sponsors or not attending meetings. The lockdown presents a convenient excuse for people to take some time off, but for a person in recovery this should never be the case. Continuous recovery and growth are needed in order to maintain sobriety. This is just as valid in a pandemic as it is on your average day.

There is a cliché that says “an addict alone is in a dangerous neighbourhood”, so what do we do when being alone is the only choice that is presented to us?

 Newcomers and veterans of recovery are battling with how to apply their program to the changing state of affairs in the world. A lot of what is taught to us revolves around one simple thing: stay connected. This has been the way for years, and this sudden change in how we need to live our lives presents a challenge, as the way that things have been done for years is no longer a possibility.

How do you see your sponsor if you cannot leave your home? How can you get to a meeting when gatherings are forbidden? The answer is both simple and obvious, even though it may be tricky to navigate. The internet.

Both Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous have taken their meetings online using services like Zoom and Discord. There are both regional and international meetings available, meaning that people are able to connect with people in recovery. There are a variety of meetings available, many times during the day. Most importantly, the traditions of the respective fellowships are upheld.

When we speak about traditions this can be summed up basically as: there are no dues or membership fees, the only thing that is required of a person to attend a meeting, is a desire to stop drinking/using, and that your personal anomality is respected at all times. Meetings have always been a safe place for people to get help for their substance/alcohol use problem. This is just as valid in a digital space as in a physical one.

Besides online meetings, the internet presents convenient ways to connect with sponsors and friends in recovery. Relying on the people in your life for comfort and sanity is just as important today as prior to the lockdown. Use all the resources that you have at your disposal to strengthen these connections. WhatsApp voice calling, video calling services such as Skype, along with traditional messaging applications, are but a few of the many tools we have at our disposal. Use them to further your recovery, stay accountable, and stay connected.


Recovery is always a daunting task for those who choose to undertake it. In times of crisis, like the one we currently find ourselves in, as both a country and a global community, it can be tempting to allow recovery to take a back seat and instead hand ourselves over to the panic and chaos. But the best day to start your recovery is always today, no matter the external circumstances.

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