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COVID-19 putting up road blocks for people wanting to get help for addiction issues

Last Updated Apr 29, 2020 at 7:10 am PDT

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An expert warns isolation may push people in recovery back into dangerous habits

Andy Bhatti, who offers addiction services, says the pandemic is creating challenges for those seeking help

Addiction and counselling services are still available

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s no secret alcohol sales are up during the COVID-19 pandemic, and apparently, so are relapses.

Andy Bhatti, who does interventions and offers addiction services, says isolation is causing some people who are in recovery to once again turn to drugs and alcohol.

“[A person with addiction issues] doesn’t have that support of going for coffee with somebody when he’s stressed out, he’s isolated and alone in his house, and he’s thinking about using so a lot of clients are relapsing,” Bhatti says.

He stresses many are missing that in-person connection and community engagement that is so key for people to stay the course while recovering.

“That’s what most clients are missing, is when they get off work, meeting their buddy at Starbucks, going over step work, have the coffee, taking about their day, talking about why they’re struggling, talk about the relationship that just ended,” Bhatti explains. “It’s a little bit of a different story than it was six weeks ago when you could do that.”

While many addiction treatment services have moved online, virtual counselling or virtual AA meetings may not cut it for some, compounding their feeling of isolation.

“A lot of people don’t feel as comfortable talking on the phone. They need that one-on-one, actual emotional connection, where they can feel safe,” Bhatti adds. “They don’t feel safe talking on the phone or doing a FaceTime with somebody they don’t really know.”

There are also additional barriers to getting someone into a treatment centre or doing an intervention, says Bhatti.

“The process before for intervention: we’d go in, do the intervention, five minutes later we’ll drive to the treatment centre or to the airport, jump on a plane, and drop the guy off. Now we have to do a three step procedure to see if the guy is even eligible to come to the treatment centre.”

For example, getting a teen to Thailand, where one of the best youth addiction treatment programs in the world stands, is not just a simple plane ride away anymore.

“We could still legally get there, but it’s going to cost three times the amount, you need a $100,000 coronavirus insurance and a clean COVID-19 test that’s three days old, so those are the barriers of actually helping somebody get into treatment right now,” explains Bhatti.

But while it may take longer, Bhatti stresses help is still available and urges anyone who needs it or knows someone who does, to reach out.

-With files from John Ackermann