By Claudia Motley
Around 500 Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings across New York have closed since March 22 as the result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and although groups are adapting to virtual spaces, remote consultation seems to be lacking in much of what in-person meetings had to offer.
Although transitioning to remote meetings allows organizations to utilize technology and further their outreach, 12-step recovery programs see the lack of in-person communication and isolation as a concern for those resisting addiction.
“All of the meeting places have shut down, so what’s popping up all over the place is online meetings,” Alternate Chairperson for Suffolk Intergroup Association (SIA), Lee, said. For anonymity purposes, Lee asked his full name not be provided. “[Remote meetings] are what’s available to us now.”
The recovery community has rarely omitted in-person consultations. Even in the wake of 9/11, AA meetings had continued as scheduled. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has left many AA members and recovering addicts in positions of uncertainty as they face changes to their recovery plan.
“There are certain things we do on a daily basis to remain sober,” Lee said. “Going to meetings, talking to people…talking to our sponsor…not being able to do that has definitely put a stress on everything.”
Isolation puts a heavy stress on people recovering from substance or alcohol abuse. Much of the recovery requires community support.
“Isolation is a go to [for those in recovery],” State Representative for Celebrate Recovery, Valerie Adamo, said. The program, similar to AA, is based on a 12-step program, and aids individuals recover from a variety of abuses and addictions. “It keeps you away from a loving and caring community. I’m seeing a lot of people who can’t cope, can’t resist their addictions.”
New York State Certified Recovery Coach for the Nassau Intergroup Association, Mark, also sees the isolation being impactful to those in recovery. His full name was not provided for anonymity. “Isolation is something we promote to not do, it is a key characteristic for those stuck in addiction. People in recovery for a really long time are struggling…many of their social activities are going to meetings and talking to other people in recovery, and now they can’t do that.”
The stress could be worse for newer AA members and those just beginning their recovery, as they have had less time building their sobriety.
“There are people who will grow from this experience, but right now people will struggle,” SIA Chairperson, Jean Marie, said. “I’m more worried about the person who has only been sober for 30 days.”
AA claims over 2.1 million members around the world as of 2018, and more than half are from the United States. Although the success rate of the program has been questioned several times, a study published Feb 3, 2020 found that twelve-step facilitated (TSF) programs such as AA show better sustained remission rates and recoveries as a result of both ‘internal transformations’ and community engagement.
“We don’t want this to take the place of face-to-face [meetings],” Adamo said. “In-person is in [the program’s] DNA. We’d like to get back to our community.”
In an article published March 21 by The American Addiction Center, an emphasis was placed on heavy participation and commitment in the program in order to see success. Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, which has caused at least three million unemployment claims in the past two weeks, added to closures, layoffs, and displacements, participation and commitment is left in digital hands.
But a transition to remote recovery can have benefits, Lee said. “It’s another tool we can use for people who are housebound, or for people in the hospital, not just with the coronavirus, but down the road [as well].”