In the spring, as the coronavirus spread through the country and states called for citizens to stay at home, people with substance use disorders (SUDs) and seeking, living in, and supporting recovery were concerned. The combination of not being able to attend traditional meetings and treatment programs, with the general anxiety about the COVID pandemic, threatened to put many at serious risk. Heightened anxiety can be a trigger for people with SUDs, especially those isolated from support networks, and unable to attend in-person meetings or recovery programs. Plus, the pandemic has exacerbated mental health illnesses like depressive disorders, anxiety, and or obsessive-compulsive disorders. 

At Lionrock, we were confident that if we could reach people, we could help them. That’s because since we first opened ten years ago, we have delivered all of our services online. And in that time, we’ve helped thousands of people. We deliver all of our care online by secure video conference and mobile app and we’ve built a state of the art telehealth program – accredited by the Joint Commission.

We knew that with residential units and their freestanding intensive outpatient programs (IOP) programs closed, telehealth would become even more critical for people with SUDs. Telehealth allows people to get help from the privacy of their home. In fact, telehealth is one of the most effective ways to reach and treat people with SUDs. It’s also one of the most effective ways to support recovery. With a telehealth solution, people can seek and receive treatment from the privacy of their home. For years, online treatment has been a practical option for employed people who may have been wondering how to get the help they need without signaling to their employers that there is a problem. 

Now, as we head into the fall, we have a better understanding of the impact this pandemic is having on people with SUDs. First, we know for the entire population, COVID-19 is indeed adversely impacting mental health. A recent report from the Center for Disease Control shows that symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. But we also know, that for those who have accessed SUD treatment online, it’s helping. We recently conducted our own survey of people accessing online support and found that for people who had attended in person meetings prior to the pandemic, more than half (52%) will continue with online meetings only and 45% will continue with a combination of in-person and online meetings when restrictions are lifted. More than half of respondents cited the ability to connect with others, privacy, and flexibility as the reasons for their preference to online meetings.

We’re a long way from reaching everyone who struggles with SUD and unfortunately none of us can predict the long term impact of the pandemic, but we are encouraged by the response to online recovery programs. For more information, visit LINK.