National Recovery Month is a time to raise awareness about addiction and celebrate lives in recovery while gathering strength from the community. September 2020 was the culmination of more than half a year living in a global pandemic, a period that was for many the most difficult stage of their recovery thus far. As evidenced by September’s wide array of virtual celebrations and remembrances, recovery communities have been able to rise to the challenge and continue to support each other in these uncertain times.
Rise of Telehealth & Telemedicine
When COVID-19 hit the U.S. and social distancing measures were put in place, many organizations were forced to suddenly close their doors, or at least severely limit the number of people allowed to enter their establishments. This included addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs, peer recovery centers, and other places where people in recovery regularly seek treatment or attend meetings. Luckily, a number of treatment providers, including Spectrum Health Systems, were able to quickly pivot and expand their virtual offerings. What we and others have found is that this way of providing treatment is effective.
Many of us, both in and out of recovery, have been grateful for technology during this period, allowing us to stay in touch with loved ones despite being physically isolated. Addiction support groups have switched to online meetings, which can’t perfectly replace in-person gatherings, but still allow people to access their support systems. Social isolation feeds addiction and relapse, and recovery thrives through connection. Virtual recovery is one way for people to stay connected even if physically distanced.
From the clinical perspective, this pandemic has been full of unexpected silver linings. Through telephone and video calls, clinicians and counselors can see as many clients as they did before the pandemic, and some are actually seeing more. Those struggling with addiction without easy access to a clinic can receive treatment from home. They can even gain access to certain treatments for the first time as the federal government relaxes restrictions for virtual treatments, now allowing even the first counseling meeting to be held entirely virtual.
The advances made in virtual recovery this year have been too swift and too widespread to be reversed once the pandemic is over. A large swath of people has been given a level of access to addiction care that they never had before, and many others have still come to appreciate the convenience and reduced costs of virtual options. Clinicians and clients alike have enjoyed the benefits of this new technology and it is almost certain to be an integral part of care, at least in some hybrid form, from now on.
Moreover, virtual recovery options have changed our recovery communities themselves. It wasn’t until so many programs were forced online that it was made apparent how many people were never able to access them before, particularly in rural communities. An estimated 91-99% of rural counties are unable to provide access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), but telehealth technology can connect people and clinicians in different counties.
As 2020 winds down, we can look back upon this year and be proud of the ways that clinicians, peer recovery centers, and people in recovery across the country have come together to build even stronger communities with the help of virtual options. This technology is connecting more people to the resources they need and saving more lives. If nothing else, that is something we can be grateful for this year.
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, Spectrum Health Systems is open and available to help. Please at 1-877-MyRehab and speak to our staff before arrival. Start your recovery journey today!