Addiction Treatment Providers Offering ‘A Necessary Service’ During Pandemic

Video: What kinds of methods are addiction treatment services turning to during the pandemic? We speak with Lester Munson, a chairman of the board at Hazelden Betty Ford, and Brandie Wilson, executive director at the Chicago Recovery Alliance.

The impact of the coronavirus is being felt in nearly every aspect of daily life, but it’s not the only health crisis people are facing.

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“Addiction can kill you as well,” said Aaron Weiner, director of addiction services at Naperville-based Linden Oaks Behavioral Health. “And addiction can grow if it’s not treated.”

Weiner says Linden Oaks is “providing a necessary service” during the pandemic, and while there is concern over COVID-19, “it’s not like all the other problems cease to exist.”

Addiction services at the facility are now being provided virtually, including one-on-one and group sessions. 

Maintaining those sessions is critical to a person’s recovery, Weiner said, but being at home all the time may not be the best thing for everyone who struggles with addiction.

“The home environment can have a lot of triggers. It could be where people have been doing the majority of their using,” Weiner said. “Home sometimes is where a drug dealer knows you live, or it could be a rough and destabilizing environment where you have others using in their homes.”

It could also cause cravings, he said.

Linden Oaks still provides in-person services to people who need them, according to Weiner. In those cases, social distancing and other safety measures are being followed.

But for many people who need help, the biggest obstacle they face is fear, Weiner says.

He’s heard from patients who need to detox in a hospital setting but are scared of going because of COVID-19. In those situations, Weiner says it’s best to validate a patient’s concerns and educate them about the safety precautions hospitals and emergency rooms are taking to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as steps patients can take.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ stay-at-home order has caused some people to delay or even stop treatment. 

According to Weiner, that’s “been very common over the past couple of months. Initially when this happened, people dropped out of treatment. People have been afraid to come.”

Weiner says he’s also concerned about people using unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with pandemic-related stress, such as drinking alcohol or using drugs.

“It’s one of these things where people who were not using before … are using more and that can develop into an addiction. Really strong emotions are the number one reason for people to relapse in the first place,” he said.

“There are people who are struggling in early recovery or even long-term recovery who have now lost their in-person support group, got this tremendous stressor and people are relapsing too,” he added. “It’s a really challenging situation when it comes to addiction right now.”

Weiner encourages people to take stock of their situation and evaluate their habits. “If people are concerned for themselves, they should try to see whether or not this is something they can control on their own,” he said, adding early identification will make it easier to stop before it becomes a “real problem.”

But you can get help if you need it. “You don’t have to do it alone,” Weiner said. “Call your primary care physician if you don’t know where to start.”

The state of Illinois also runs a help line (833-2FINDHELP) for people who use opioids and other substances.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz (773) 509-5452  [email protected]

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