Social Distancing, Isolation and Addiction Recovery COVID-19

As a person in recovery, I have been taught that isolation is bad for me. And that connection and community is good. In fact, everyone in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD) has had this concept drummed into their heads for good reason. Folks with active SUDs isolate so they can protect their addiction. In early recovery, isolation allows for too much unscheduled, unsupervised time. And long-term? A continuum of treatment, outpatient classes, and continued education and group activities with like-minded individuals ups our positive recovery outcomes.


But we are being told to practice social distancing, isolation, and in it’s most extreme iteration – quarantine. I can’t be the only one who worries about days stretching ahead without a buddy hike. Or the connection at a 12-step meeting, coffee clutch, church group or book club. Or even one of those hugs we have all learned to accept gracefully at well-earned milestones from friends and strangers.


The isolation we are all feeling is particularly risky for those new to recovery. Being proactive is one way of making connections and establishing the concept, we are not alone. Reaching out to someone in need is satisfying. And feeling good about your service to others can boost your own recovery process.

Lynnel Brewster, RN, LPC, LLMFT, CCTP – Sanford Clinical Director


The Good News About Social Distancing in Recovery

What’s a person in recovery to do when everything in the tool kit has been cancelled or postponed? When we worry about job security, our health, the economy and the changing instructions on how to best stay safe from COVID-19, it is not surprising that feelings of stress and anxiety are heightened for everybody. For those in recovery, the uncertainty can jeopardize the best of intentions.


But the good news, is that we live in a virtual world. My inbox is full of options for online meetings, podcasts and virtual classes. And there is always the old standby – the telephone.


In the two weeks I have been socially distancing so far, I have spoken on the phone to more old friends than I have in the past two years. And talking on the phone, instead of emailing or texting, is an excellent way to make a meaningful connection. Add real-time video technology to the phone call and the connection is even more significant.


Social distancing isolation sculpture

One and Other – Cast Iron Sculpture by Anthony Gormley – Frederic Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, MI


Social Distancing & Addiction Recovery – How Do I Stay Connected?

In Michigan, where I live, we have just been given the “stay-at-home” directive from the Governor. So for those of you who were hoping COVID-19 was a bad dream, it is time to wake up and smell the “stress reliever” essential oils in your diffuser (that you pulled out of a bottom drawer for the occasion).

Continue your addiction treatment virtually

Sanford Virtual Addiction Treatment is fully operational through HIPAA-compliant, insurance-eligible telehealth. Assessments, one-on-one outpatient counseling, day programs, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and outpatient classes including medication-assisted-treatment are available. Virtual technology provides a group therapy experience while adhering to stay-at-home directives. Keeping staff and clients safe.

Group sessions, virtual meetings, support group meetings, assessments, records and more through Sanford’s KIPUHealth, KIPU Messenger

Just Reach out and call someone …

This works even for those who are not technically savvy. And if you are in a position to do so, offer to pick up supplies or groceries for those less ambulatory on your weekly run. Be nice to someone. It will boost your own recovery process.

Connect with those in recovery

Offer to serve as a port in the storm for those who are new to recovery and may be struggling. If you are new to recovery, establish a readily available support system. Ask for help if you need it.  In The Rooms is a good internet resource for virtual meetings.They have a Coronavirus Support Group meeting, for anyone feeling stressed or concerned about their recovery during the pandemic.

Establish work-from-home, recovery-from-home protocols

Three dirty words when you work from home? Bed, Refrigerator, TV. If you are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, establish rules for yourself. Shower, dress and rely on those real-time video conference calls to help keep your senses sharp (and your hair combed). Stay-at-home protocols help keep your recovery on track too.

Use video, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom and other “real life” options

I love keeping up with far-flung friends on Instagram Stories. Now is the time to personalize. Form work or friends and family “hang outs”. Play charades, have a “party” or just drink coffee together and talk.

Form text chains with loved ones and recovery buddies

I might be quietly “unfriended” from the text chain I have established with my grown children and their significant others in Florida. They have received a crowing rooster video at 7 am, lengthy articles on COVID-19 best practices, and dancing leprechauns on St Patrick’s Day. But, finding a way to stay connected with them has lessened my anxiety about how far away they are and keeps me up to date.

Live in the moment – mindfulness, meditation and positive thinking …

One of the good things about being in recovery during this time, is our training in one-day-at-a-time thinking. This is not the time to extrapolate or think catastrophically. Live in the moment, be mindful and find something every day to be grateful for (like that tub of yogurt covered raisins in the freezer).



So far, we are able to walk the dog, go for a run or get some fresh air – as long as we stay far away from others. Living in Michigan is another thing to be grateful for (I’ll save that for tomorrow’s positivity). We have a lot of parks and wide open spaces for a daily solo constitutional. YouTube has exercise videos and many of the gyms offer virtual exercise classes if you are housebound.

Your home is your castle

If you have a nice place to stay, keep it clean, light a candle, plump a pillow. And if you are distancing with family, enjoy this gift of family time – the opposite of social distancing. Ask your family to remember that you are in recovery and that you will not falter, but you might need some extra help.


Everyone on television and the internet is telling us, “Stay safe – we’ll get through this together.” For those of us in recovery, that mantra has special meaning. Especially when it comes in the same breath as “social distancing”. We know that hiding alone in a dark room is one of the earmarks of active addiction. That community, friends and family connection is key to our long-term recovery. So, take advantage of all the options to reach out, and:  Stay safe. Stay connected. We will get through this together …


after marilyn head shot bio

Marilyn Spiller is a viral writer, recovery coach, and recovery advocate. She is the Marketing Director at Sanford, responsible for written and creative content, website design, new media, promotions, subscriber outreach, and SEO. Excursions Magazine is a particular source of pride; it serves a wide range of readers, and “excursion” has become part of the company vernacular, describing Sanford’s signature experiential outings for those in treatment. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board of JACK Mental Health Advocacy.