People with addiction face new stresses, relapse in social isolation

With New Jerseyans forced to stay at home, experts say those struggling with addiction are finding it harder than ever to stay clean.

“Social isolation is a big trigger for people who struggle with substance use disorders and mental health treatment. And for individuals who are need for treatment, access to some treatment centers has been difficult at the time with many of the restrictions that have been put in place,” said Angela Nikolavski, executive director of Straight and Narrow.

Straight and Narrow is one of the oldest and largest nonprofit addiction rehab facilities in the country.

“People who have never even been in treatment before that are now experiencing stressors as a result of the current health pandemic, that would be a new wave of clientele within the treatment programs, so we were really committed to staying operational,” she said.

Straight and Narrow’s program is offered through the religious organization Catholic Charities. Its CEO believes those struggling to get help with addiction are also in danger of slipping into poverty during the pandemic.

“You talk about triggers, we have more feeding more people every day. We have gone from our food pantries serving 3,000 families to serving well over 7,000 families this past month,” said Scott Milliken, Catholic Charities CEO.

To be able to support clients during quarantine, Nikolavaski says Straight and Narrow has made a number of modifications, including changing the rules when it comes to at-home medication for patients.

“For the pandemic, the state has worked with us very closely — the Department of Health and the the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services — to help increase the number of bottles a person can have at home to reduce the risk of exposure on site,” said Nikolavaski.

Straight and Narrow’s medical director, Dr. Haymn Rambaran, says in addition to opioid use, recovering patients are turning to alcohol during the pandemic.

“They are not in any form of opioid addiction because of the methadone we have provided. However, there was an increase in alcohol sales,” said Rambaran, .

He says people with addiction fail to realize that it puts them at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19.

“If someone is intoxicated they couldn’t care less about what social distancing is all about. In the euphoric state, they are not in touch with reality,” Rambaran said.

While practicing social isolation is important, Nikolavski recommends those in recovery maintain a routine and keep in contact with their support system, like a sponsor, to prevent relapsing.

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