The table where the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous was born sits in kitchen of Stepping Stones, the home of Bill and Lois Wilson in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Tuesday, July 24, 2007. Bill Wilson was co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and Lois was co-founder of Al-Anon Family Groups. Alcoholics Anonymous is temporarily closing many of its meetings across Canada in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. AA, which typically meets in churches, legion halls, and other public meeting rooms, is directly affected by government mandates to close facilities where groups may gather in an effort to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Karen Vibert-Kennedy

The table where the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous was born sits in kitchen of Stepping Stones, the home of Bill and Lois Wilson in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Tuesday, July 24, 2007. Bill Wilson was co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and Lois was co-founder of Al-Anon Family Groups. Alcoholics Anonymous is temporarily closing many of its meetings across Canada in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. AA, which typically meets in churches, legion halls, and other public meeting rooms, is directly affected by government mandates to close facilities where groups may gather in an effort to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Karen Vibert-Kennedy

Battling addiction in self-isolation: online AA meetings can help

The focus is on still encouraging a connection

When Alcoholics Anonymous groups started cancelling meetings across Canada and the United States amid the COVID-19 outbreak, some of the organization’s Toronto members turned to their cell phones.

What started weeks ago as a group chat to let people know which AA meetings were closing soon turned into discussions on how to set up online versions of the support network.

Now, AA and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings are operating nationwide using Zoom, Google Hangouts and other video-conferencing systems.

“I posted a couple weeks ago in our WhatsApp group saying I would host (a Zoom meeting) at our usual time, and it’s kind of exploded since,” an Ontario woman who asked to remain anonymous said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “Now the WhatsApp group has hundreds of people in it and basically every Toronto meeting is online.

“There are Google Docs being circulated with all the meeting ID’s, people are sharing links to meetings happening in L.A. and New York and in other parts of the country. So it’s pretty crazy.”

The woman, a Toronto resident in her 30s, has been sober for four and a half years. She attended her first AA meeting in 2014 after opening up to a coworker about her struggles with alcohol.

While self-isolation and social distancing can hit those with addiction problems hard, the woman said she’s doing well. Speaking to her sponsor by phone almost daily, and participating in multiple online meetings per week has been helpful.

“You can join a meeting anywhere as long as you have the code, so it’s accessible for people who maybe I met a few years ago but don’t live in the city anymore,” she said. “I’m getting to see people who I haven’t seen in a long time and it’s honestly allowing me to (connect) with more members, which is something I didn’t expect.”

Dr. Nancy Hurst, a psychologist in Edmonton, said maintaining connection will be key for those suffering with addiction throughout the duration of the pandemic.

She said social distancing and self-isolation can lead some to “fall into a negative mindset and into destructive patterns.”

“For some people that might be eating too much, for some it might be depression, and for others it might be drinking or other kinds of unhealthy addictions,” Hurst added.

Hurst called the online AA meetings “absolutely essential,” and said she would encourage those who need help to find a support group “that fits for them.”

“You can still connect with people, right? It’s not ideal, it’s not the same, but it’s still a support group,” Hurst said. ”It’s people who are struggling with similar issues.”

READ MORE: How B.C. emptied its hospitals to prepare for COVID-19

Jeff Sturgeon, a social worker/therapist in Calgary, prefers to use the term “physical distancing” rather than social distancing to remove connotations of loneliness.

Sturgeon, like Hurst and others in his field across the country, has adapted his own practises to online or telephone sessions in the wake of the coronavirus spread.

But Sturgeon said therapists also have to adapt their strategies to fit the times.

“Clients are saying that the isolation is making their struggles harder, and think about all the coping we teach — it’s all about getting out of your house, being busy and being physically active,” Sturgeon said. “All those things are gone, at this point, to a great degree.

“So the focus now is on how can we encourage connection?”

Sturgeon said that while family and friends will become increasingly important for those with addiction, people need to be creative with how they connect — having dinner over the phone, playing cards together digitally — and making a routine of it.

“Just reminding them that you’re there all the time,” Sturgeon said. ”So video chatting with them, but not just to check in. … We have to create normalcy in our new normal.”

Annina Schmid, an addictions/feminist counsellor in Toronto, says there’s no blanket description for how self-isolation can affect those with addiction problems.

A lot, she said, will depend on where a person is in their recovery. For some, the social pressures to drink will be eased by not being able to go to a bar. But in severe substance-abuse cases, withdrawal symptoms are possible.

Schmid added that domestic violence rates can also increase during this time.

“The concerns are so many,” Schmid said. “Most of the therapists and counsellors that I know though, we all keep working, we’re an essential profession.

“Of course, you run into the problem where that’s only beneficial for those who can afford it or have coverage. … And there’s definitely plenty of resources for AA and NA meetings online, but I think that the change in routine can be really difficult for people.”

Schmid sees other potential negatives to online AA meetings, including a lack of privacy for people self-isolating in a full house. Still, she said, it’s better than not getting help when needed.

“I think that right now the drawbacks are actually not that bad comparatively,” Schmid said. ”In terms of the connection … it’s not less effective than meeting in person.”

The Toronto woman who helped set up one of the first Zoom meetings in the city is aware of those challenges. But she hopes newcomers to AA will think about joining their online sessions.

“It is a little bit harder to connect when you’re not face to face. So that’s been the biggest concern,” she said.

“But we’re really just trying to make it as accessible as possible to people in early recovery. They’re the most vulnerable group right now.”

READ MORE: ‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

___

For more information on online AA meetings: www.aa.org/pages/en_US/regional-correspondent-us-and-canada

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

(Dave Ogilvie photo)
One injured after being pinned by fallen forklift near Peachland

West Kelowna emergency crews responded to reports of a person stuck under a forklift

(Big White Ski Resort/Contributed)
Big White’s big clean-up: Large turnout for post-melt mountain tidy

More than 165 people showed up to help gather the litter left behind from the winter season

Mounties cover a burgundy truck with a tent at Buckerfields in West Kelowna on Monday, June 14. The RCMP is investigating after a woman’s body was found inside the truck. (Amandalina Letterio/Capital News)
West Kelowna RCMP investigating suspicious death after body found in truck

Police responded to a truck parked out front of a Main Street business where the body was found

(Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)
Delays expected on Lakeshore Road this week

Northbound traffic on Lakeshore between Richter and Barrera will be detoured for paving

David Larsen, left, and co-host Tony Peyton. (K96.3/Twitter)
Popular Kelowna radio host dies after battle with cancer

David Larsen was half of the longtime Kelowna morning-show duo David and Tony

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop live horse export

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Penticton Overdose Prevention Society co-founders Desiree Franz, Shane Surowski and Stephanie Lines have created the city’s first unsanctioned public overdose prevention site using an old wine-tour bus. The site began operations in June 2021. (Desiree Franz/Facebook)
Volunteers launch Penticton’s first public supervised injection site

2021 is on pace to be the deadliest year for overdoses in Penticton on record

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Jane Linden
KCR: Volunteering keeps you active

Kelowna Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

This goose family went for a leisurely stroll down Vernon’s Main Street Saturday, April 25. (Dave Deshane photo)
Controversial Vernon goose cull won’t fly this year

Necessary permit procedures held up at a federal level

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Most Read