COVID-19 has disrupted the world’s systems and that includes the addiction and recovery world. I’ve been thinking about both the positive and negative consequences.
Many people who are diagnosed in the world’s system with substance use disorder (SUD) are more susceptible to contracting the COVID-19 virus because they “cycle in and out of emergency departments, addiction treatment centers, homeless shelters and correctional facilities like jails and prisons.” (Senior, Rob) Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that these “circumstances pose unique challenges regarding COVID-19 transmission.” (Senior, Rob)
Residential addiction facilities are faced with unique challenges because unrelated people are living in close proximity to one another and are potentially spreading the virus among themselves. The director of a homeless shelter told me that his staff lovingly teaches basic hygiene practices to those whom he serves – no one has ever taught them their importance. Infection control precautions (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) can be learned and must be practiced until they become second nature.
Years ago, I remember hearing from two residential programs that were overrun with bed bugs! Yikes! I am so glad I never had to deal with that issue while I was a director. Months were spent until they were finally rid of all those pests. In one case, the program even had to replace mattresses and carpet.
There was another program that was sharing hand-foot-and-mouth disease among its residents. The highly contagious nature of that virus spread throughout the residents quickly. These awful situations were extremely difficult to manage, and complicating matters was the concern for the health of the staff team, who were not immune to these things!
With the events of the past few weeks, I’m being made aware of several residential addiction programs that have had to send residents home for quarantine at home as a result of COVID-19. Being back in a home environment before they are ready for the challenges of temptation, the men and women have had no other choice. The disruptions to the programs were inevitable under such circumstances of a pandemic. All that groundwork of counseling and instructing those residents who are now at home and unable to continue working on their recovery programs has now been put on halt. It is very unfortunate and extremely challenging for sure. Creative solutions are simmering and ramping up though. Online access to video teaching and accountability measures are in the works, but I am concerned that sometimes the most effective method is the person-to-person discipline and structure of a residential place.
Those who are already clean and sober but recent graduates of a residential center are presented with the challenge to stay connected to their supportive communities. The forced isolation and closure of in person church gatherings, which have been the lifeline of the transformed addict, could be of particular temptation to these individuals. But since all services, small group meetings, supportive meetings, and other group gatherings have been cancelled, some are meeting online using a variety of platforms. This is a good solution but there is something about it that falls short; we all crave human, face-to-face, in-person interactions. Social support is lacking for a group of people who depend upon human connection to help keep them from making poor decisions. Just as the proverb warns: Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1) Those who heed this wisdom and work hard to connect with others despite the challenges of this time will be most successful at staying on the straight and narrow path of transformation.
Disruption is not always entirely a bad thing, especially when we are talking about God’s redemptive work in our lives. Let’s be encouraged. This “divine disruption,” as Dr. Tony Evans calls it, of the COVID-19 pandemic did not escape God’s eye nor His power. In fact, since God is sovereign, He is allowing this microscopic virus He created to proliferate. It’s a product of a sin-cursed world that He plans to use redemptively for His own purposes and glory. God has good planned for His people.
For the addicted, this virus is a reminder that there are things beyond their ability to control. Addicts struggle with letting go of their attempts to control. Some would say that addicts are control freaks. Another term for a control freak is simply idolatry. An idolater seeks to be in control and acts as though he is his own god. Addicts are often immersed in idolatrous behaviors as they seek to control everything in their lives, not realizing that this is futile. This virus is greater and not controllable. Yes, it can be slowed perhaps, as the spread of the virus can be slowed, but it really cannot be contained completely.
The Corona virus is a reminder to trust the God of the heavens Who is greater than any virus anywhere. God was greater than the swine flu, greater than polio, and He is greater than the COVID-19 virus. God is greater than the addict; He is not a Higher Power who can be chosen or “fired” as some say in self-help programs. He is the Highest Power of all.
God never promises to relieve or prevent all of the suffering in store for His children. Instead, He promises to prepare a place for His children (John 14:1-7) – a place of no more suffering and no more sin. In this world, we will always have trouble and the virus is proof that Jesus’ words are true (John 16:33). The promise for His children is that there is an eternal place prepared for them that is free of viruses, diseases, and death. What a blessing to receive such a promise of a future destination! The COVID-19 virus reminds us that this world is not our home, but a temporal place to serve an eternal Father by sharing the good news of the Gospel with lost souls so that they might be found!
There are other good lessons from the quarantine experiences like the valuing of those you live with, re-evaluating what is most important (i.e. sporting events are cancelled in an effort to save lives), learning to serve and help others, praying for others especially those infected by the virus, redeeming our time, and re-prioritizing people and tasks.
While the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) offers important advice for the addict to take physical care of the body during this pandemic, the Lord offers important eternal “advice” from His Word for the addict to take spiritual care of the soul. God’s Word reveals the solution for the addict for eternal life in a time when the addict is confronted by death on two fronts: a deadly respiratory virus and a deadly choice to relapse by using drugs again. In a time where fear can overtake any of us, an addict who is born again and transforming by God’s grace can rest in trusting a Heavenly Father who is capable of fulfilling His promises of eternal life.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Corona Virus Disease 2019 – COVID-19. 18 March 2020. 31 March 2020. <https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html>.
Senior, Rob. Addiction Treatment and COVID-19: Preparing Facilities. 18 March 2020. Elite Healthcare. digital. 31 March 2020. <https://www.elitecme.com/resource-center/behavioral-health/addiction-treatment-and-covid-19-preparing-facilities/>.