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Is It Safe to Go to Rehab During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

If you or someone you know is contemplating treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, you may be wondering if it’s safe to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic. The answer is yes, treatment facilities are taking numerous precautions to ensure the safety of their patients and staff members. In fact, it may be a really good time to seek treatment.

A Booming Business

According to experts, more people are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stresses brought about by COVID-19. People are planning quarantine cocktail parties and Zoom Happy  Hours. Friends have raised a glass to each other via FaceTime. According to a piece that ran on Morning Edition on National Public Radio (NPR) on September 11, 2020, alcohol sales have been an economic bright spot during the pandemic. Alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants are up 24 percent over this time last year, and restaurants have been allowed to sell alcohol with take-out food orders. Drizly, an app-based alcohol home delivery service, raised $50 million in August to expand its operations, and a company spokesperson said that sales are up 350 percent over this time last year.

This boom in alcohol sales worries Dr. Lorenzo Leggio, who is a researcher with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Leggio says that because alcohol is more socially acceptable than other drugs, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol seems less risky to people than street drugs (although the use of opioids, meth, and cocaine has also increased). Another point of concern is that, according to Leggio, alcohol-related illnesses kill 88,000 Americans per year, which is more than all drug overdoses combined for the same time period. People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol have an increased risk of respiratory infections and an increased risk of complications from those infections. Additionally, there is concern that after the pandemic ends, that pattern of excess drinking may continue.

What Precautions Are Treatment Facilities Taking?

Drug and alcohol treatment centers are considered essential services and so have not been required to shut down during the pandemic. In fact, as more people turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism during the pandemic, treatment centers are more needed than ever as people struggle with addiction and other mental health issues.

At many treatment facilities, health precautions begin before a patient is even admitted. Perspective clients are screened for risk factors, frequently through a questionnaire that asks if they have traveled outside the United States recently; if they have passed through an airport; if they have had a cough, fever, or shortness of breath in the past seven days; if they have experienced a loss of taste or smell; and if they have been in contact with anyone who is or may be COVID-19 positive. Many treatment centers check the temperature with a forehead thermometer of anyone entering the facility. If their temperature is higher than 100.4 degrees, they will not be allowed to enter. 

Disinfectant wipes, masks, and gloves are available for everyone in the facilities, staff, and patients alike. Cleaning and disinfecting routines have been heightened, with high-touch surfaces being disinfected frequently throughout the day. Masks must be worn when in common areas. Social distancing is enforced, and handshakes, hugs, and the like are not allowed. Many facilities are prohibiting visitors and visits off-site have been scaled back.

Treatment facilities have also developed protocols to follow if a patient should become ill with COVID-19 while in treatment. Clients in an out-patient program would need to return home and participate in their various therapies via Telehealth services or a Zoom meeting or some other remote access modality. They would be required to contact their primary care physician or go to urgent care. They would need to be free of a fever for 72 hours and be cleared by their doctor before returning to the program. Clients in a residential program who become ill with COVID-19 may be quarantined in their residence, sent home and offered Telehealth services, or taken to a local hospital if their medical situation warrants that level of care.

As in many other organizations, many staff members at treatment centers can work remotely and are doing so. Whenever possible, group and individual therapy sessions are being conducted through telemedicine. If groups meet in person, social distancing guidelines are being observed. Some treatment centers that offer residential care are limiting off-site visits for clients to medical appointments.

Treatment Facilities May Offer More Precautions from COVID-19 than “Civilian” Life

Some experts feel that, for a person addicted to drugs or alcohol, a treatment facility may provide more protection from COVID-19 than they would have in their day-to-day life because they will be in a controlled environment. People struggling with addiction won’t be abusing drugs or alcohol and engaging in risky behaviors that frequently coincide with substance abuse. If you are or someone you love is considering entering a treatment program, don’t let COVID-19 deter you.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more people are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress as the world grapples with this illness. Alcohol sales, excluding bars and restaurants, are up 24% when compared with the same time period in the previous year. Some experts worry that people are drinking to excess to ease the stress and boredom from the pandemic. While not all of this excess will result in addiction, some will. There is concern that when the pandemic ends, the excessive alcohol consumption will continue. At the same time, there is concern about whether or not it is safe to enter a treatment program during the pandemic. Rest assured that treatment facilities like Enlightened Solutions, located on the New Jersey shore, are monitoring the pandemic closely and taking precautions to safeguard the health of clients, staff members, families, and the greater community. If you or a loved one is concerned about drug or alcohol use, call (833) 801-5483.


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