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Coping with Isolation and the Risks of Addiction

by Amy Quaring, LPC, CADCIII
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Given that we are going into week four of social distancing and everyone’s work and family schedules have changed, it is not surprising to find that we are looking for comfort in habits, foods, and substance use. We are trying to cope with an event that feels surreal and at times unmanageable.  

Social media is full of memes and references to binge drinking, overeating (“gaining the corona 15”), and coping with homeschooling and/or parenting by tuning out or avoiding through social media, gaming or Netflix. Marijuana sales are up by 30% compared to last March and alcohol sales are predicted to be up approximately 17% as well. For those who are vulnerable to substance abuse or have history of addiction, the isolation, anxiety and lack of typical routines could become the perfect storm. 

The reality is that we use a variety of things to cope with distress but the relief we feel is often short-lived. And so we turn to those same things again and again. These activities or substances can begin to crowd out other responsibilities, self-care practices and even connection with those dear to you.

Perhaps what began as a glass of wine at night to unwind after the children have gone to bed has slowly become two or three and starting earlier in the day. Perhaps binge watching Netflix has become the escape you are seeking. Rather than smoking cannabis on occasion, it becomes a way of getting through the day. Excessive sleep or overeating can also begin to feel that they have a life of their own. 

So, what can you do if you feel that you are starting to lean too heavily on maybe not-so-helpful ways of coping? Below are 5 helpful tips. 

  1. Take a personal inventory of what your current use is and compare it to what your ideal use is. Think about what times of day you notice an increase. Is it after a stressful situation or has it become more routine part of your day?
  2. Decide on a personal schedule for you and your family. Children as well as adults all thrive when we know what to expect and have a plan for what we are doing with our days. Yes, it might look different in quarantine but schedules are very helpful. 
  3. Set personal goals for your self around behaviors you are trying to change. Think about what you need to be successful.
  4. Have more compassion for yourself and others around you. Remember this situation is temporary and this too shall pass. Be gentle with yourself if you are not successful the first time around in changing. Take a look at how you are talking to yourself and remember to praise yourself when you make progress. No matter how big or small. 
  5. If you find yourself unable to reduce your consumption, reach out to a friend, a family member, a counselor, or a doctor. You can also attend an online support group.

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