Patrick Mullen, M.S.
COVID-19, undoubtedly the greatest public health crisis of our time, has been accompanied by an insurmountable psychosocial impact. Perhaps, none greater than the effects on individuals who live with substance use disorder (SUD). Not only are individuals who are actively using substances at a higher risk of contracting and transmitting COVID, but individuals who are in recovery from SUD are facing unprecedented barriers to their overall wellness and connectivity to support systems that they are dependent (Dubey et al., 2020)
In concurrence with the medical threat of the contagious virus, the population as a whole is experiencing psychosocial challenges to mental health and wellness. Moreover, individuals with SUD and those in recovery from SUD have increased vulnerability to the social, economic, psychological, and emotional stressors that have escalated in the wake of COVID-19 (Ornell at al., 2020). For example, the primary strategies to combat the present coronavirus employ methods of forced isolation, home confinement, and widespread lockdown of businesses such as community health centers. These regulations, while essential for containing the virus, have compromised the recovery community’s most essential means of managing their SUDs including support-group meetings, face-to-face interactions, group activities/leisure, and the overall benefits of shared physical space with an empathic peer.
Similarly, therapeutic services including outpatient group or individual therapy have predominantly transitioned to a virtual model that may be less assessable for individuals without access to the proper technological means or for people who prefer the humanistic benefits of face-to-face therapy. Below, we have highlighted a simple and easy-to-remember acronym to assist in the importance of self-care during these challenging times: H.A.L.T.
H: Hungry. Are you basic nutritional needs being met? During times when biological needs such as hunger, thirst, shelter, and sleep are comprised, individuals are at an increased vulnerability. Make sure you are taking care of your health at the most basic level!
A: Angry. How do you feel? Emotions, while excellent sources of information that can be useful, can also contribute to impulsive and unhelpful behavior when not managed in effective ways. What coping skills could be used when feeling angry, frustrated, or sad? Reach out to the supportive people in your life or find a professional to talk to.
L: Lonely. Are you lonely? There is a big difference between being alone and feeling lonely. At times, being alone can be healthy and a much needed time for quiet and reflection. Feeling lonely, however, can be a dangerous situation that can leave individuals vulnerable to relapse. Reach out to the supportive people in your life or find a professional to talk to.
T: Tired. Do you feel exhausted or run-down? Sometimes, feeling tired is not only associated with a lack of sleep. Feeling exhausted or burnt-out may mean that an individual has too much on their plate or going through a particularly stressful time. Know your limits and set healthy boundaries with people and workplaces. Everyone needs a break at times. Schedule a day off and plan something enjoyable, or plan nothing at all and enjoy the free time.
If you are experiencing any of the above H.A.L.T. warning signs, STOP and take the time you need to address and intervene where appropriate. Self-care is essential to life in recovery from a SUD, and even more important amidst the stressors associated with COVID-19.
Dubey, M. J., Ghosh, R., Chatterjee, S., Biswas, P., Chatterjee, S., & Dubey, S. (2020). COVID-19 and addiction. Diabetes & metabolic syndrome, 14(5), 817–823. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2020.06.008
Ornell, F., Moura, H. F., Scherer, J. N., Pechansky, F., Kessler, F. H. P., & von Diemen, L. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on substance use: Implications for prevention and treatment. Psychiatry Research, 289. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113096