Local addiction support groups are moving operations online.
The meetings are based on a principle of in-person community support. So going digital means adjustments for those seeking recovery and support for alcohol and substance abuse.
For some who are a part of Madison’s anonymous support groups, the transition to a web-based format means losing what they look for in a traditional meeting. One support group member, who spoke to WORT on the condition of anonymity, says the video calls are missing an element of physical connection.
“So for me, it’s that in-person contact that really, really helps. Especially when you’re talking and you’re divulging these painful issues, it’s really helpful to have someone sitting next to you,” they said. “You know, when we’re using we isolate, we’d keep everybody out. It’s almost like falling back into that way of living.”
To help cover the gap, some support groups are implementing new methods to reach community members who need counseling. Safe Communities of Madison is a non-profit that provides recovery coaches for organizations throughout the region. This week, the non-profit launched a 24-hour phone line that provides remote addiction counseling to Dane County residents.
According to Rene Simon, a recovery coach for Safe Communities, the measure is just another step the organization is taking to adapt to sheltering in place.
“All these aspects of the recovery community all have been affected by the safer-at-home order,” she said. “So it’s really, really difficult right now for people with substance use disorder to find the support, treatment and resources that they need.”
Tanya Kraege is the manager of Safe Communities’ Recovery Coaching Program.
She says the need for addiction counseling and support groups are more important now than ever. With hospitals facing an increase in in-patient cases due to COVID-19, the state’s medical system is too stressed to adequately support recovering and relapsed substance users.
“Our healthcare system is overwhelmed right now with the pandemic, and oftentimes when that’s happening other things kind of get pushed to the wayside. But we were already in an epidemic prior to the pandemic. Now, our teams are working on two health crises, and unfortunately there’s not a lot of resources for people with substance abuse disorders right now,” she said.
The news isn’t entirely negative, according to Steve Starkey, Executive Director of the OutReach LGBT Community Center. OutReach hosts several substance counseling sessions a week, half of which have moved online. Since the transition, OutReach’s weekly online meetings have seen a 25% bump in attendance.
“That’s partly because of transportation, it’s maybe more convenient to just stay in your home and join by Zoom,” he explained.
The transition to primarily digital meetings has had other positive effects, according to one attendee.
“It actually improves the quality of meetings because there aren’t as many there. So each person can share a little bit more. It does a lot of good for a lot of people,” he said. “Everybody’s affected by [COVID-19]. It depends on your level of paranoia. If you’re afraid of your shadow, you’re going to be in really bad shape. And that’s one of those things that it helps to be with other people, it helps you know that you’re going to be okay. Just don’t screw up and you’re going to be okay.”
Safe Communities’ 24 hour Recovery Coach Helpline can be reached at (608) 228-1278.