Support Groups: Keys to Surviving Pandemic Isolation

June 15, 2020

Periods of isolation are often a barrier between a patient with a substance use disorder and a successful recovery. During this time of social distancing, isolation has become the new normal and those who struggle with SUDs are increasingly in need of support.

“People are separated from their families, their friends and peers at work, and that isolation can be a trigger for relapse. It can worsen co-occurring illness like depression and anxiety,” said Chris Bundy, MD, MPH, executive medical director of Washington Physicians Health Program. “There are a number of financial and other types of stressors that people are also experiencing during the COVID pandemic. Having support is important for people in general, but especially for people in recovery.”

Dr. Bundy said when social distancing went into effect as the virus spread rapidly throughout the United States, new ways of coming together became critical for patients with addiction.

Thankfully, online support groups where people call in or “attend” through a video conferencing service have proven to be popular in recent weeks. Dr. Bundy said they’re certainly not a replacement for in-person gatherings, but they are having positive outcomes.

“People seem to be attending more meetings because they’re more accessible online,” he said. “I’ve consistently heard people saying that they are attending more meetings per week and that they’re enjoying the meetings.”

Support group leaders are also realizing how online meetings can be beneficial for people who experience anxiety during in-person meetings.

“An online community offers enhanced anonymity, frankly,” Dr. Bundy said. “The meeting can be properly controlled against unintended guests being present and those sorts of things. These (meetings) can feel like very safe, comfortable environments that are easily accessible to all.”

Dr. Bundy said he believes online support groups will continue to be available long after COVID-19 disappears.

“There have always been online chats and virtual meetings, but I think it’s taken this pandemic to force people out of their comfort zones into trying new things and I think they found that this is really a viable solution,” he said.

Physicians looking for online support groups for their patients to join can do so through ASAM’s COVID-19 webpage.

“The COVID-19 page at ASAM is probably one of the best resources I’ve seen in terms of one-stop shopping for patients to find online catalogues of meetings by geographic location and a variety of other recovery tools,” Dr. Bundy said. “That would be an excellent start and from there it would be difficult for somebody to really not find the support they need.”


Ways to Protecting Online Support Groups

  1. Mute audio and disable video and screen sharing for attendees
  2. Protect your meetings with a password
  3. Never use your personal meeting ID when scheduling a meting
  4. Modify the name you log in with as a participant
  5. Use a virtual background
  6. Enable waiting rooms as a host
  7. Do not record the meeting

Additional resources for support groups >>>