COVID-19 preventing addicts from accessing some services

Even those with the strongest resolve have felt the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. But what about those struggling with addiction?

Tavia Wheeler has battled with addiction for much of her life — a 17-year struggle by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, when she found herself at rock bottom.

“I had nowhere to turn. I was homeless. I had left my home, I couldn’t go back,” Wheeler told Global News.

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“I had a rough time getting into detox because I couldn’t make it there. I had my bag stolen and Satan was working against me.”

The pandemic meant important supports and programming for addicts was suddenly harder to access — as was the community addicts rely on for recovery.

Read more: Destigmatizing suicide could help those in need: mental health advocate

“People who are in early recovery or even in long term recovery may have been depending on mutual support organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous,” said addiction specialist James MacKillop.

“Those organizations really provide support via fellowship in person and obviously are no longer available in the same way during the pandemic.”

MacKillop said 12-step groups and more traditional forms of therapy have done their best to be there virtually — but there’s no doubt for many people the pandemic made a hard life that much harder as basic survival took precedence.

There has been, however, an unexpected silver lining to COVID-19, he said.

“There’s a group of people who are showing higher resilience also. And that’s been very heartening to see — people who are reporting finding new ways to cope, new strategies and some of the restrictions actually perhaps reducing some of the triggers they’re exposed to.”

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John Arthur, an addict nine months into his recovery at Hope Mission’s breakout program in Edmonton, told Global News “when the world stopped, the fog lifted.”

“As the world fell out of the swing of things,” said Arthur, “this new opportunity presented itself for me, and I saw it and I jumped on it.

“Everything just keeps falling in place. And now we’re coming to the close of my term and feeling so much better for myself. I’ve been able to get back on terms with my family, talk with my kids, pay my bills.”

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