COVID-19 Continues to be a Threat to Sobriety

Content Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH

For many people, home is a cocoon, a place where they can find shelter from the turbulent world outside. But what happens when you’re a recovering addict forced to stay in your cocoon day-after-day? Recovering addicts continue to fear that the pandemic quarantine threatens their sobriety.

Forced to stay in their homes, stress levels are rising among families. Memes are cropping up around the internet. Wives joke about selling their husbands. Parents tear their hair out trying to help their kids learn fourth-grade math. Humor has been a way to cope. And even people without addiction issues have developed coping skills to deal with isolation.

But what about those who are recovering from addiction? There’s no doubt that the isolation of quarantine threatens recovering addicts’ sobriety.

Isolation Continues to be a Trigger

Whether they be apartments or family homes, the places recovering addicts are seeking shelter from the coronavirus storm can trigger harrowing memories.

“Isolation tends to be a feature of addiction,” said Frankie Tack, clinical assistant professor and addiction studies minor coordinator at the  West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services.

Tack added that the isolation resulting from social distancing and self-quarantine is leaving those recovering from substance use disorders feeling lonely and vulnerable.

“Negative emotional states are the biggest collective source of triggers for resuming substance use, and people in recovery often confuse emotional states with cravings,” Tack said. “We are all experiencing feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and hopelessness, and we worry about individuals in recovery, especially those who are early in the process, who may be experiencing some or all of these emotions as a result of the pandemic. They may feel like they have taken important steps in recovery and are now losing control.”

So, even if a recovering addict is in quarantine in the family home with relatives, the home can trigger memories. Those memories may include early substance abuse, hiding drugs around the home, and strained relations with parents.

However, unlike recovering addicts who are alone, those with family have a physical support network they can lean on, said Dr. Jonathan Morrow from the University of Michigan Addiction Center.

Family members can make sure recovering addicts are connected to virtual support networks and ask them what help they need.

The University of Michigan Addiction Center offers a list of resources recovering addicts and their families can access to ride out the pandemic and quarantine:

Human connection will always be an integral part of the recovery journey.

Quarantine boredom threatens sobriety

So, along with loneliness, boredom during the pandemic quarantine threatens sobriety. Even people not addicted to drugs and alcohol can find themselves hooked on video games, constantly looking at their phones or eating everything in sight.

Now imagine the dark temptations recovering addicts face under quarantine. On top of that, are the triggers home can set off. But Morrow says it doesn’t have to be that way. Recovering addicts, either by themselves or with family support can change their surroundings. They can transform triggers and alleviating boredom.

In this video, Morrow discusses how recovering addicts can change their quarantine environment to avoid temptations.

Many are Staying Strong

But as fears of addiction relapse grow, a recent survey found some surprising results.

Indiana University and IUPI surveyed 45 adults between the ages of 28 and 73 who had a substance abuse disorder. Members of the study rated their chances of catching COVID-19 at 63 percent, more than double the national average.

And, in the economic upheaval and societal disarray of the pandemic, 78 percent reported a higher level of stress.

But more intriguing is that despite the isolation and stress, according to the report,

” up to 80 percent of those surveyed reported no craving increase and 83 percent have maintained sobriety. Some participants have used social distancing as a way to better connect with friends and family and to spend more time engaging in hobbies that support their sobriety.”

That echoes Michigan’s Morrow about recovering addicts taking steps to change their environment. And the Indiana researchers found the members of their survey to be highly motivated.

“Although there are a lot of things working against people in recovery right now, I’m inspired by the resilience our participants are showing,” said Katie Shircliff, the study coordinator for the Long Term Recovery Project at IUPUI. “Our participants tell us about how their treatment has prepared them for adversity. They tell us about how they are continuing to reach out for support and to support others. It’s a silver lining in this difficult time.”


[1] WVU addiction studies expert addresses the effects of social distancing on individuals in recovery. (2020, March 26). WVU Today | West Virginia University.

[2] Substance use disorder recovery a special challenge in pandemic. (n.d.). Research Impact.

About the Author 

Janet Perez

Janet Perez has been a reporter, television and radio broadcaster, magazine editor and marketing copywriter for more than 30 years. She’s lived in the Valley since 1991 with the exception of a few years in New Mexico at New Mexico State University and Waco, Texas, at Baylor Law School.

Do you have a loved one who is in recovery and having difficulty coping with the COVID-19 quarantine? Please share this story with your loved one or anyone else who might benefit from it.