How to Deal with an Addiction During the Pandemic

Jaclyn Ahearn Info icon
Calendar icon Last Updated: 03/18/2021
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If you are within or surrounding the recovery community or someone you know is trying to get sober, you already know that many aspects of recovery have been affected during the pandemic—both negatively and positively.

For those who have spent years surrounded by substances like alcohol or drugs, the lifestyle associated with that substance use often comes with unhealthy behaviors, such as:

  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Not exercising
  • Eating unhealthily
  • Neglecting social needs

On the flip side, many who are in recovery will adapt to healthier lifestyle alternatives, and often these shifts happen without a conscious intention. For example, if drug use is associated with unhealthy eating patterns, such as binging or eating high-calorie fast food, discontinuing the drug use will often stop these behaviors. With less substance use, there is a greater awareness, and thus many will find themselves naturally making healthier choices.

The pandemic provides an opportunity to get creative in terms of how diet and exercise are managed, while many people are dining, exercising, and socializing more often from home. Below are some suggestions on how to stay focused on your recovery and remain sober during a pandemic.

1. Attend Virtual Meetings

Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer anonymous, weekly gatherings that occur regularly and at all times of the day and are there to help guide you along the path of recovery.1

Many who have achieved sobriety long-term speak of the importance of recovery meetings right after they stopped using. Early recovery is a vulnerable time for many people—effectively implementing lasting change takes a supportive environment that these meetings provide. If you are early in your recovery journey you may find it useful to build connections, especially with those who have had similar experiences and goals as you.

Social distancing doesn’t mean you can no longer attend Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. Both organizations offer several online meeting options via platforms like Zoom.

2. Find Ways to Connect

Finding ways to connect to others during the pandemic can be challenging, and at this point, it can feel downright exhausting. Especially if you have health concerns, this past year has proposed unique challenges to community, family, and friendship. These kinds of barriers have not existed this way before, and this truly is a time of discovery and need for innovation. We have got to get creative when it comes to these challenges or else we will lose a vital component of the human experience: connection with others.

In order to connect with others while following social distancing guidelines, utilizing video conferencing modalities, such as Apple’s FaceTime feature, or Skype, Zoom, or Google Meet, can help you stay in touch and socialize with others while remaining safe.

Smartphone applications like House Party also offer a way to connect with friends and family to play games together while on a video call.

3. Start a Hobby

When you decide to stop using drugs or alcohol, you may grow a desire to have a greater sense of direction or sense of self. The time spent using, obtaining the drug or substance of choice, and recovering from using opens up when addiction recovery starts.

This new free time can seem daunting, and that is part of the reason why starting a new project, activity, hobby, or other sorts of commitment or engagement can be so helpful. In a sense, a new hobby can begin to fill some of the void created when the drug is no longer around. Hobbies can have additional benefits or purposes, such as hobbies involving philanthropic work for connections to local charities.

Get Active

You do not need to have any background in athletics to get more active. Getting active simply means keeping yourself occupied, whether physically or mentally. Brain games like Sudoku or crossword puzzles can help in times of rest and relaxation and will help keep your brain active. You might even consider starting a windowsill garden, or picking up a guitar.

Getting more physically active can be as simple as introducing a couple of stretches and yoga poses into your morning routine or as demanding as preparing for running a marathon. Sometimes, adding a pattern of chores around the house or regular “To-Dos” can be enough to break old patterns associated with times of drug use.

It’s important to note that an individual’s health and physical limitations must be kept in mind during activity.

It’s not uncommon to have a sedentary lifestyle while addicted to a substance so the simple act of adding new routines that force activity will help combat the tendency to fall back into bad habits and, thus, risk relapse. Ultimately, any of these suggestions work toward the goal of improving life satisfaction by maintaining a lifestyle free from one’s substance of choice.

Get Creative

Self-expression can take many forms, from artistic expression to the clothes that you choose to wear or how you speak. The pandemic provides an opportunity to reflect and introspect in a way that was often missed before COVID-19.

The use of materials like paint, colored pencils, chalk, or charcoal can introduce a means of communicating emotions. In some kinds of expressive therapies, they are combined with discussion of expression of emotional experience.

Research has found that simply talking about your emotional experience has a positive effect on mood.2 If you struggle to put words to your emotions, art and other forms of creative expression can be a means of beginning that conversation.

Be Kind To Yourself

While being kind to yourself isn’t exactly a hobby, it’s something that you need to keep in mind and enjoy doing, just like you would a hobby.

If you find yourself in the middle of a pandemic and struggling to stay clean and sober (or haven’t quite gotten to sobriety yet), this is a time to be forgiving. The world can be a harsh and unforgiving place, and it is no secret there is tremendous stigma around substance use disorders.

Be kind to yourself because that will help you to heal, and that is just the kind of care you deserve.

4. Work on Mindfulness Practice

In modern substance abuse treatment, therapy often includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. CBT involves using strategies that aim to improve mood and overall functioning by influencing thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors and breaking unhealthy patterns.3 For example, for someone trying to quit smoking, introducing new behaviors where smoking once took place in one’s routine can help to curb nicotine cravings. If a smoker would typically light their first cigarette at the end of their driveway on the way to work, they could introduce a new habit to occur at the same time, like reaching for a stick of gum or a breath mint instead.

CBT and mindfulness practice pair nicely together, as both intend to improve overall functioning by influencing the mind and body positively. From research, the scientific community has found that mindfulness practice has overall well-being benefits.4 In mindfulness practice, you look within to find calm and tranquility, and this practice alone appears to help with your overall mood. A good way to start with mindfulness or meditation is guided meditations. These tapes provide voice recordings about how to meditate, progressively relax the body, and fully engage in mindfulness practice.

5. Get Help

Sometimes, the hardest part really is the first step of making that phone call. Asking for help takes courage, and it’s not always easy finding the time to call it quits. When you are ready, call 800-926-9037 (Info iconWho Answers?) today to speak to a treatment specialist and learn about your options for rehab.


  1. Brigham, G. 2003. 12-Step Participation as a Pathway to Recovery: The Maryhaven Experience and Implications for Treatment and Research. Science Practice Perspective2(1), 43–51.
  2. Zech, E. & Rimé, B. 2005. Clin. Psychology and Psychotherapy. 12, 270–287
  3. McHugh, R. K., Hearon, B. A., & Otto, M. W. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use DisordersPsychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 511-525.
  4. Richard Korecki, Frank J. Schwebel, Victoria R. Votaw & Katie Witkiewitz. 2020. Mindfulness-based programs for substance use disorders: a systematic review of manualized treatments. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy15(51).
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