How to Cope with Triggers During a Global Pandemic While Going Through Recovery

By Paul Brethen

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spreads across the United States, many areas are moving toward social distancing, self-quarantine and shelter-in-place tactics to prevent the spread. During this unprecedented time, those going through recovery may find life particularly challenging. While confined to their homes, those in recovery may become more susceptible to relapse. It’s important to be able to identify and recognize triggers and be prepared with constructive ways to cope with those feelings.

What can be a trigger?

At a time where anxiety levels are high, the chances of a trigger leading to a relapse is much higher.  The average relapse rate for substance use disorders is about 40-60 percent, so if you do experience a relapse, you’re not alone. Ideally, we want to identify triggers and create a plan for coping before a relapse happens. One of the most common triggers that may be experienced during this global pandemic include loneliness from the loss of your recovery system which according to a recent study is the #1 one reason a person would relapse. Some other common internal triggers from isolation may include fear, stress, anger, shame and boredom. 

Other types of triggers may be contact with using friends, even if it’s by phone or social media, can cause severe cravings or the desire to use a secondary drug or alcohol. During this time of isolation wanting to drink or use a drug that is “not a problem” to help pass your time will quickly lead back to your drug of choice. Make sure your environment is safe from anything that reminds you of drug or alcohol use i.e. drug paraphernalia, pipes, blades, boxes, rigs, music you listened to when high, info on high risk people etc.

Here are a few ways to combat triggers and cope during this time:  

Fill up your free time

Too much free time with nothing to do can be dangerous for people in recovery. Boredom can easily lead to mindless thoughts or fantasizing about drug and alcohol use, which can then trigger overwhelming cravings. It is critical to keep busy and structure your time. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a daily schedule. Include times to wake up, shower and get ready for the day, meals and snacks, work, entertainment, phone or video chat with friends and family, and a bedtime.
  • Be creative with the time you have. Start a hobby! Paint a picture, play guitar, sew a dress or read that book you’ve been meaning to start. There are so many tutorials online that you can learn just about anything!
  • Be productive! Have you been wanting to clean the house, sort through old photos, clean out your car or organize/purge computer files? Now’s the time!
  • Stay active by including workout time in your schedule. Depending on your area’s guidelines, you could take a walk outside, set up a small gym space in your garage or try the latest videos on YouTube or fitness apps. Many apps are offering free trials right now, so be sure to check those out!

Invest in your relationships

Now’s your opportunity to spend quality time on those relationships that are important to you. Connect with your partner, children and friends—even if it’s over video chat!

  • If possible, do things together like talking, fun activities/games and or planning a trip for when things get back to normal..
  • Start a family project such as gardening, cleaning out the garage, painting a room or going through the closets.
  • Start meaningful rituals like praying together, eating meals as a family or watching old family movies.
  • Attempt to mend relationships that need repairing, as long as it will not bring undue stress or harm to you or the other person. Reach out to someone with whom you’ve lost touch and share thoughts and feelings, interpersonal goals and complete acts of kindness for each other when possible.

Maintain consistency with recovery activities

Just because you might not be able to physically meet, doesn’t mean your recovery activities should get paused. There’s still work to be done and a lot of it can be completed online or in your home.

  • If you can’t go to meetings, create an online chat or find one on social media.
  • Keep in touch with sponsors and other supportive people via phone, video and text.
  • Use apps and resources that give you access to a virtual recovery coach. 
  • Work on your 12 steps or other spiritual activities that you find helpful in creating inner peace and hope.
  • Create the environment you need to stay sober if you can’t go out. Set up a cozy meditation corner or move a chair to your patio for a fresh air retreat. 

Be optimistic and hopeful

Fear can be paralyzing. When you feel hopeless and stuck, you can lose motivation to move forward—which can lead to a relapse. Remember that “this too shall pass.” Avoid harmful activities such as watching the news 24/7, reading all the comments on news articles and obsessing over the situation. Choose to be positive and focus on the good things in your life and the things you have to look forward to. Those who choose to overcome will be the ones who come out on top. 

We’ll get through this, together

The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. While social distancing, self-quarantine and shelter-in-place tactics can feel isolating, we’re all still here going through this together. It’s important that you be an advocate for your own recovery and clearly communicate your needs. Set a schedule and stick to it, reach out to your sponsor and other supportive family and friends each day, invest time in yourself and your relationships, maintain your recovery activities and keep a positive attitude. With some proper planning and the ability to recognize triggers, you’ll be able to come out on the other side stronger.  

About Paul Brethen: Paul Brethen is the co-founder of SoberBuddy, an evidence-based virtual drug and alcohol recovery coach. Paul has over 20 years of experience as a certified addiction specialist. Prior to joining SoberBuddy, Brethen worked at the Matrix Institute on Addiction as a Clinical and Administrative Director where he helped develop the highly recognized Matrix Treatment Model. He’s also worked as an international consultant training those who work in the field of drug and alcohol substance dependency. In 2009, Paul founded Net for Hope Foundation, an international NGO established to transform underdeveloped communities in Uganda. Paul has been a licensed Marriage, Family Therapist since 1992,  Certified Addiction Specialist since 1996 and is published. 

Paul Brethen is co-founder at SoberBuddy.

Author Profile

The Editorial Team at Lake Oconee Health is made up of skilled health and wellness writers and experts, led by Daniel Casciato who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We aim to provide our readers with valuable insights and guidance to help them lead healthier and happier lives.