Recovery Mutual Aid Resources During the COVID-19 Pandemic
One of the recovery research scientists whose work I closely follow is Amy Krentzman, PhD. Dr. Krentzman is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota and specializes in the role of positive psychology within the process of addiction recovery, including studies on gratitude, forgiveness, and purpose in life within the stages of long-term recovery. In a recent paper, she explored the expansion of online recovery support services during the Covid-19 pandemic. My appreciation of that paper led to an invitation to Dr. Krentzman to share a blog highlighting the paper’s major themes. Below is that invited blog.
Recovery Mutual Aid Resources during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Amy Krentzman, PhD
It was March 2020, two weeks into lockdown, when a journalist contacted me. Would I be willing to be interviewed on TV about recovery from addiction during the pandemic? I agreed. Face-to-face AA meetings had been shuttered and online meetings had begun to mushroom. I knew my interview would be short. I imagined talking about remote recovery resources on the TV. I knew I couldn’t say what I wanted to say, which was, “Everybody, grab a pen! Write down www-dot-virtual-dash-NA-dot-org.” Because I couldn’t spell out URLs to the viewing audience, I wanted to distribute a “handout” that viewers could explore on their own time. I thought that an electronic handout could work and created a website with links to remote resources to support addiction recovery during COVID-19. The journalist who interviewed me mentioned the website in her reporting and provided a link to it.
As I found more and more resources for the website, I was amazed by the innovation and creativity of the recovery community. There were formal public-facing resources such as the Alcoholics Anonymous remote meeting intergroup website which underwent a major upgrade during the pandemic, as well as resources that sprung up overnight and were shared among members, such as google spreadsheets listing thousands of meetings and a google folder listing remote meetings, conferences, and workshops.
I was afloat on a sea of information. I knew that providers and people in recovery would be interested in what I was finding. I knew I had done at least some of the digging for them. I gave a couple of webinars in April 2020 to spread the word and was amazed when 1,000 people signed up.
I used the webinar content as the basis for a written article and the result was published April 2021 as “Helping clients engage with remote mutual aid for addiction recovery during COVID-19 and beyond” in the journal Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. The publisher of the journal, Taylor & Francis, allows free copies of the article to the first 50 people who click here.
My article describes how science could not move quickly enough to provide guidelines for accessing remote mutual aid during a pandemic. But two existing treasures could be leveraged: all of the research on mutual aid that predated the pandemic and the remote recovery resources rapidly growing in response to the pandemic. I summarized both in the article along with some suggestions that addiction treatment professionals could use to help their clients engage.
Other colleagues have worked quickly to publish articles on online recovery during the pandemic. Here are two examples by Brandon Bergman and colleagues:
Dr. Bergman’s first article describes the ways in which remote recovery support might work similarly to in-person mutual aid, describes beneficial outcomes of telehealth for addiction and how this might translate into benefits of remote mutual aid, and discusses drawbacks to remote mutual aid for special populations, such as individuals who wish to decrease but not eliminate substance use. The authors recommend that clinicians should refer clients to remote mutual aid with confidence during the pandemic because the benefits of participation outweigh any downsides.
Dr. Bergman’s second article describes how the use of remote mutual aid during the pandemic can help with barriers to treatment experienced before the pandemic. The article provides a conceptual model of how remote mutual aid can work to support recovery, a discussion of possible downsides of remote mutual aid, types of remote mutual aid, and an array of additional websites and services.
Now that the pandemic is winding to a close, the next challenge for some in recovery will be the transition back to in-person meetings. For some, this might be a disruption to what is now an established remote meeting routine. Some remote groups might fold as people return to meeting in person while other groups might continue in a hybrid–online and in person–format. These changes mean that the schedules, friendship circles, and meeting schedules of many may once again experience an upheaval, but this should be followed by a new period of stabilization.
Overall, the response from the recovery community to the pandemic was swift, nimble, and creative. Face-to-face meetings quickly converted to remote formats. Existing remote meetings welcomed throngs of new members. New York Intergroup, as one example, hosted meetings, compiled international meeting lists, and provided essential advice for making remote meetings safe. Ever-changing meeting lists and websites were kept up to date. Recovery community centers continued to answer their phones. Conferences and conventions shifted to Zoom. New friends were made the world over. People remained connected and newcomers were welcomed. All of these activities staved off isolation and loneliness, forged new bonds and connections, and helped people stay sober and sustained throughout the pandemic.