The Impact of Online Support Groups During COVID-19Pat Fontana
When the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March 2020, most in-person activities were either canceled or shifted online. Schools made plans for remote sessions, business meetings morphed into video chats, and addiction support groups went virtual. While this transition has meant that certain activities can continue during the crisis, the impact of online support groups during COVID-19 has been mixed.
Substance Use and COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for everyone. For those with a substance use disorder, however, the dangers can be multiplied many times over. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), along with several professional colleagues, recently published a study of more than 73 million patients at 360 US hospitals. Out of those patients, 7.5 million had a substance use disorder, addicted to drugs or alcohol, and 12,030 had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The researchers confirmed that people with substance use disorders are at higher risk of contracting and suffering more severe consequences from COVID-19. In fact, patients with a substance use disorder made up 15.6% of the COVID-19 group in the study. The risk of acquiring COVID-19 was highest among patients who had received a substance use disorder diagnosis in the past year. Patients with an opioid use disorder were 10.2 times more likely to have COVID-19 than patients who did not have a recent substance use disorder.
Dr. Volkow and the NIDA emphasize that chronic substance use harms or weakens the body in ways that make people who use drugs or alcohol more vulnerable to infection. Opioids can cause a slowing of breathing that can lead to reduced blood oxygen, which can harm the brain as well as compromise cardiac and pulmonary health. In addition, behaviors associated with opioid use and certain other kinds of illicit drug use raise the risk of contracting all kinds of infectious disease.
The Positive Impact of Online Support Groups
An individual with an addiction to drugs or alcohol needs to get professional help to get and stay healthy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, treating the substance use disorder can help the individual who would otherwise be even more susceptible to the virus. Support groups help those who are addicted by providing them an opportunity to discuss, open and honestly, the challenges they face in addiction and recovery. Face-to-face meetings are much more effective, but online support groups give the addicted person the opportunity to continue receiving support in a safe environment throughout the pandemic.
As was recently reported in The Washington Post, virtual meetings have become a lifeline for people who have been isolated by the pandemic, helping them maintain their sobriety during a very stressful time. In fact, online support groups give individuals the opportunity to meet new people across the country, expanding their support network at a time when they probably need it the most.
The Negative Impact
However, as also discussed in the Post article, many experts point out that Zoom meetings and other virtual group meetings just aren’t as effective in helping individuals form and maintain the close connections they are able to enjoy during in-person meetings. Most face-to-face meetings also involve the opportunity to be of service before the meeting, by helping to set up or greet other members. Conversations that start during in-person meetings often continue afterwards as participants break off into smaller groups or chat one-on-one. These elements are missing in online support group meetings.
Challenges created by online meetings also include the lack of connectivity in some areas of the country. Not everyone has ready access to the Internet in their home and people may not be comfortable with the lack of confidentiality involved in using public Wi-Fi, if that is even available to them.
Engagement Can Make the Difference
When considering the impact of online support groups during COVID-19, most point to the fact that virtual engagement is not as effective as that enjoyed during in-person meetings. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) offers some tips for getting more out of a virtual support group meeting. For example, distractions such as emails, apps, and other websites that can be accessed during an online support group meeting take away from the individual’s ability to engage in the meeting itself. ASAM suggests that participants:
- Focus on and participate in the group conversations
- Silence cell phones and mute their computer microphone until they are ready to speak
- Get to know the group’s platform and guidelines prior to participating in a meeting
- Verify that the support group organizer has taken steps to protect their privacy so they can be more comfortable with sharing, just as they would during an in-person meeting.
Online 12-Step Groups
During COVID-19, it is particularly important for the individual addicted to drugs or alcohol to find a support group that will help them continue in their recovery, so they can stay safe and healthy. There are many online groups available, including:
- AA Online Meeting Directory: http://aa-intergroup.org/directory.php
- AA – Online – http://12stepforums.net/alcoholics_anonymous_online_meeting.html
- Al-Anon – Online – http://12stepforums.net/alanon_family_group_online_meeting.htm l
- IDAA – https://www.idaa.org/
- NA Online Meetings “Addicts helping Addicts Recover”: http://na-recovery.org/
- NA – Online – http://12stepforums.net/narcotics_anonymous_online_meeting.html
- Online Recovery Group (ORG): https://onlinerecoverygroup.org/schedule
- In the Rooms: https://www.intherooms.com/home/
- Medication-Assisted Recovery Anonymous http://www.mara-international.org
Contact R&A Therapeutic Partners for Help During COVID-19
It is critically important that you stay safe and healthy during the pandemic and that includes taking steps to overcome your addiction to drugs or alcohol. At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we provide quality telehealth services and offer online therapy so you can receive the care you need during this most challenging time. Please contact the Miami therapeutic consultants Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno to learn more about the services R&A Therapeutic Partners offers. Call us at 786-452-7352 to schedule your appointment.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.