The coronavirus pandemic has uprooted every sense of normalcy.
It created job loss, grief to those who lost loved ones because of the virus and instilled the new normal: social distancing measures and self-isolation.
There are reports of increased domestic and child abuse, shortage of food at local pantries and increased need for counseling of all kinds, from stress, anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
So how have people, particularly those with substance abuse issues coping with the new circumstances?
Alcoholics Anonymous is a nationwide nonprofit organization for those who are trying to quit drinking.
Local AA groups normally meet in person at churches, local clubhouses or other community centers, but after those locations started to close down due to coronavirus concerns, many have transitioned to online platforms instead.
Each AA group chooses their own way to host meetings, whether it’s a conference call or video platform, but so far zoom has been the most popular format to host the meetings, said Jim S. chair for Williamsburg Area Intergroup, an organization that supports the individual AA groups.
WYDaily is only using “Jim S.” since Alcoholics Anonymous is based on the condition of anonymity.
A member of AA himself, Jim said he replaced his drinking habit with AA meetings, starting a garden and playing guitar.
“For me personally, I have discovered you can’t replace something with nothing,” Jim said. “The main thing I want to stress is AA’s primary purpose is to stay sober and us to help the others –– the newcomers.”
And because the meetings are anonymous, those who attend don’t have to show their face and can just listen in.
“A lot of potential problem drinkers have fears they will be recognized or identify as having a problem if they show up at a meeting,” Jim said.
Prior to the crisis, Jim said they didn’t have a significant online presence but now it is easier to reach AA than ever before.
“In many ways, this has been an opportunity for us to expand the types of meetings and the kinds of support we offer,” Jim said. “It’s very possible we would continue these online meetings because we discovered how useful they are.”
He said he hopes the new format doesn’t turn people off from joining or attending a meeting if they are struggling with alcoholism.
“People tend to get depressed, or fearful or any number of emotional reactions to this kind of stressful situation,” he said. “The isolation seems to put people in a position where drinking is easier.”
Rick Gressard, a chancellor professor of education at the College of William & Mary, agrees.
“The isolation and loneliness is really an enemy of recovering in a sense because so much of recovery is focused on building support systems and having support,” he said. “This is a dangerous time..be aware of that.”
Gressard specializes in addiction counseling and created the college’s New Leaf Clinic, working with college students who received violations due to alcohol use.
Other ways people can cope with alcoholism is to work with a counselor, practice meditation, seek support from family members and even using spiritual resources.
From smartphone apps, online meditations and teleconferencing counseling sessions, there are multiple resources available, Gressard said.
“The Williamsburg community has a lot of really outstanding specialists who are available,” he added.
Gressard said AA uses the acronym HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, which could signal the person is heading toward a relapse.
“I think the main thing is looking for the irritability,” he said.
While Gressard said anyone can get edgy being confined, other signs to look for is the person letting go of their support system such as not attending AA meetings, meeting with their sponsor and reducing contact.
When asked how he felt about Virginia ABC stores being open during the coronavirus, Gressard said he doesn’t see it as essential business.
“For people who can drink responsibly, it can be a source of comfort and relaxation,” he said. “It’s not one that I recommend, but it is the reality that it is.”
But if the stores were to close, he feels two things would happen.
“People would get more irritable just because they didn’t have access to something they enjoy,” he said. “The other thing is people who are addicted, if the alcohol weren’t available, they would probably go into alcohol withdrawal.”
“Alcohol withdrawal is a very serious condition,” he added. “It can be lethal..in very severe cases.”
If you are someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, you can use the following resources:
- Williamsburg Alcoholics Anonymous 24/7 Hotline: 757- 253-1234
- Click here for a list of AA meetings in Williamsburg.
- Find a therapist near you: Psychology Today.
- Virginia Area of Alcoholics Anonymous.
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