‘Isolation is a killer for addicts’: Experts worry about recovering alcoholics during stay-at-home order

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Isolation may be key to helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, but being alone can be difficult for people battling addiction.

A Riverside man, who asked only to be identified as Todd, hasn’t touched alcohol in nearly nine years. But finding sobriety didn’t come easy.

“I started drinking when I was a child,” Todd said. “I’m a felon from drinking. That’s what it took to get me to stop.”

The 55-year-old drank for more than 30 years. He never thought he would put down the bottle — that is, until he found Alcoholics Anonymous.

“I didn’t get smart, good-looking or rich, but what I got was a life I can be proud of,” he said. “I’m proud of the man I am today and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Todd said he’s noticed a significant drop in the number of people attending his AA meetings since the coronavirus pandemic hit the metro. He understands why some would want to stay away, but it makes him nervous.

“Nobody falls down on a bottle of beer and drinks it,” he explained. “It always starts with going to fewer meetings, stop reading the book, stop talking to other AAs. These are the little things that are a precursor for us getting back into our addictions.”

His biggest fear is that recovering alcoholics may be feeling alone right now.

“Isolation is a killer for addicts. Absolutely killer,” Todd said. “If we’re doing something that we’re not proud of, we tend to do sneaking around by ourselves. So anytime someone with an addiction is by themselves they’re in danger.”

Sharon Freese, the chief operating officer at Truman Medical Center Behavioral Health, called addiction an escape.

“When you’re bored, especially if you’re early on in your addiction recovery, you’re quicker to just revert back to old behaviors because you haven’t had time to replace those old habits with healthier ones,” she said.

Freese said those struggling with addiction are likely stressed right now.

“We are mindful of this particular population and how we really need to make sure we’re giving them as much human touches, even if it’s not in person, as often as we can,” she said.

Truman Medical, along with several Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups are now holding virtual meetings.

The most important thing is that recovering addicts talk to someone if they feel they’re starting to slip.

“Please, don’t stop reaching out or feel like you’re in this alone,” Freese said.

“This is a temporary thing. We just have to get through it,” Todd added.

To find an AA meeting near you, click here. To find an NA meeting near you, click here.

Another resource is the local crisis hotline. There are people available to talk 24/7. The number is 1-888-279-8188.

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