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People Who Have Addictions Face Increasing Isolation Amid Pandemic


The coronavirus pandemic has isolated many people, shut them off from friends, family and support. One group that may be especially vulnerable in isolation is those who contend with addictions, including alcohol. They may be alone, even suddenly unemployed and under stress. If they're in some kind of recovery program, they may depend on group meetings for support. We're joined now by Mark, a longtime member of Alcoholics Anonymous who's been helping to organize Zoom meetings with the members in his area. Mark, thank you so much for being with us.

MARK: You're welcome, Scott.

SIMON: Based on what you've learned through life, what are the challenges in a period like this for someone who has a drinking problem?

MARK: Oh, boy, you know, isolation is like (laughter) - it's one of our original problems. Many of us, you know, in the latter days of our drinking drank alone in seclusion and hiding. And even prior to the drinking problem taking over our lives, you know, we are people that often are misfits. And and so isolation was a problem. And so now we're in this enforced isolation. And, you know, you do the math. It's not ideal.

SIMON: These video meetings help?

MARK: Oh, God, yes. The video meetings are just to us literally a godsend. The difference between us not meeting right now and us meeting on Zoom, which has been the preferred tool, is infinite. We probably would have some people really suffering and probably relapsing or at least being in extreme pain and emotional turmoil. And instead, we get to almost - we're almost keeping things as normal because when we're in a Zoom meeting, you know, we see each other's faces. I even, you know, saw a couple of ladies in a meeting, you know, with their tissues to their eyes, so I could see, you know, their emotion. And so people are still sharing from their hearts. They're still sharing about what's going on with them.

SIMON: Without violating any anonymity, which is very important, can you tell us about some of the stories you've been hearing about challenges, what's running through people's minds?

MARK: People are just - they're just not used to hanging around home. Sometimes, you can see a little bit of mayhem in the home where they really can't get away and be as private as they want to be.

SIMON: Mark, I say this as a member of an Al-Anon family, the meetings aren't always enough for people. Are you worried that the longer this quarantine goes on, a lot of people in recovery just might be pushed over some kind of line?

MARK: Yes. I think that, you know, there are going to be some bad stories, even - each one of them, you know, all has the possibility to become a good story, barring, you know, anybody passing away, which, of course, is going to happen. So, yeah, I'm worried about that. My biggest worry, Scott, is that because the doors aren't open, because people can't walk in a room that's on a list, you know, they can't, like, type in the address into their phone and show up at a meeting, we're missing some newcomers who would normally come in during this period of time. And, you know, they would be enveloped in the love of the program and hopefully stick around. And that happens on a regular basis. I'm talking about, you know, every week I see people come in who stick. And every week, I see people who come in who I never see again. So that's my biggest worry.

SIMON: Mark, you sound to me like a very strong man. As you know, there are some people who are going to fall back during this period. I wonder what you might say to somebody listening now.

MARK: Oh, well, always, always, always one day at a time. You know, if you're having a bad day, that's what it is. It's a bad day. When you're having a bad day, especially if you're one of us, it can feel like a bad life. It can't feel permanent. I do believe this advice is good for anyone, but just remember nothing is permanent. No matter how good or how bad it is, it's not permanent. And we've seen miracles that defy credibility in terms of people coming in and getting better.

So just - if you're having a rough time, just keep coming. Make a phone call. You might reach out for help and end up helping that person, you know, more than they help you. That's the way our program works is, you know, recovery begins, they say, when one alcoholic talks to another about what's going on. So do that. Go to the Zoom meetings. Click on the link, get on there. You'll see some faces. You'll feel the connection that we feel in the rooms. You'll feel it over the phone. There is a power there. That's what I would say.

SIMON: Mark is a member of AA. Mark, take care. You're inspiring. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

MARK: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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