Addiction recovery programs find new ways to offer support in pandemic

At 49, Stephen Deason, of Sandy Springs, Georgia, is now 5-and-a-half years sober.

"Recovery has kind of given me an amazing life, and I'm really happy for that," the non-profit founder says. "Five years in is where they often tell you things start to clear up, and that's definitely true."

Still, Deason says, the last year has been challenging for people who are in recovery.

"What the pandemic did, is, it drove a really harsh wedge in our ability to connect with each other on an individual level," he says. "So, we had to figure as a community, really quickly, how do we use Zoom?"

In-person support group meetings emptied out, going digital.

Some members moved outdoors, or they sat 6-feet apart, wearing masks.

"But there's a big part of the recovery community that is about sitting down with somebody and having a cup of coffee, or sitting on the porch, when you're early on, smoking cigarettes and talking about your day and the troubles you're having," Deason says. When those things are taken away, you know, it's hard to feel close to somebody, when you're 7, 8, 9 feet away from them."

The pandemic has also been challenging for the company Brad Baker co-founded, Creekside Recovery Residences, which operates 3 sober living houses in Atlanta, where people coming out of inpatient treatment centers stay 3 or 4 months before going home.

Baker says they realized their clients might be uncomfortable about sharing a home with strangers in the middle of a pandemic.

"We had to adapt to the times," Baker says. "So, we created an adaptive sober program, where you would go through everything that you go through if you were living in our sober house, but you can live in your own home."

Creekside pivoted, Baker says, by using technology like smartphone apps and devices to provide structure and support to clients.

"So, everything we do is either on a mobile app or calls like this one," he says. "We use SoberLink. It's a facial recognition mobile breathalyzer, where they'll do it two or three times a day. We still do community meetings 3 times a week, whether they want to Zoom in on that or participate in on that."

Case managers meet with clients several times a week, to make sure they are staying on track with their recovery goals. About 25% of Creekside's clients have opted for the adaptive sober living program.

As vaccinations are increasing, and the coronavirus begins to be waning, Stephen Deason is hopeful and ready to start reconnecting with the community that has helped him rebuild his life.

"We're social creatures," Deason says. "Humans love connection. And, even though sometimes it scares us, and sometimes it's frightening, and sometimes it's difficult, we still desperately need to be with one another."

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