COVID-19 and Addiction Recovery (Bill White, Ken Pomerance, and Ronald Tannebaum)

People in addiction recovery possess multiple vulnerabilities as they face the personal challenges of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Compared to the general population, they are older and have higher rates of co-occurring health conditions. Those in early recovery may have limited capacities for coping with the emotional, relational, and financial distress imposed by the pandemic. And many people in recovery face the loss of the social support that has been central to their recovery—access to regular face-to-face recovery support meetings, meetings with recovery mentors, and socializing with others in recovery. Recent articles and commentaries have highlighted these vulnerabilities, but there is a larger, less told story: the remarkable resilience of people in recovery and communities of recovery as they face the threats posed by the pandemic.

People in recovery are turning the threats of the pandemic into opportunities for reflection, growth, and service to others. They are on the frontlines battling this epidemic in their roles as physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, police officers and other first responders, postal workers, bus drivers, farmers, grocery and food delivery workers, National Guard members, and numerous other essential service roles. They are donating money to pandemic relief efforts, sewing masks, volunteering at food banks, checking in on their most isolated family members and friends, and providing personal support to the most vulnerable members of the recovery community.

Yes, some people in recovery will become sick and some will die from complications of COVID-19. Yes, we need to support the sick and mourn those we have lost, but we also need to recognize and honor the resilience and courage of those giving back at the height of this pandemic, and we need to celebrate how communities of recovery are adapting to this pandemic.

At a collective level, the resilience and creativity elicited by the pandemic is evident in the speed at which recovery support has moved from face-to-face to digital platforms. This is evident from the movement of existing face-to-face mutual aid meetings to online meetings either through the creation of new online meetings via platforms such as Zoom and other digital meeting platforms or the rapid membership growth within existing independent online recovery support meeting platforms such as In The Rooms.

In The Rooms is a free-standing online recovery social network available 24 / 7 / 365 founded by Ken Pomerance and Ronald Tannebaum in 2008. Its purpose is to “give recovering addicts a place to meet and socialize when they’re not in face-to-face meetings.” In the Rooms brings together members of the global recovery community to experience a vast array of tools that can enhance and expand one’s recovery experience and social connectedness. In The Rooms offers live meetings, discussion groups, and other recovery support forums to more than 650,000 people from around the world. It offers 153 live online meetings a week representing 40 different fellowship groups, including 65 AA meetings, 30 NA meetings, many other 12 Step meetings, Non-12 Step recovery support groups, and numerous specialty meetings. In the Rooms is designed to assure anonymity, with options for use of nickname, avatar, or silhouette with no personal identifying information.

In The Rooms experienced dramatic increases in participation beginning in March—from a pre-pandemic average of 200 new member registrations per day to more than 2,500 per day, as well as an explosive increase in the number of people participating in each online meeting—now as many as 500. In The Rooms has responded to these changes by:

*extending meeting times to give more participants time to share,

*adding ten new NA meetings,

*creating Marathon AA and NA Meetings that run from 9 am to 10 pm on weekends, and

*adding new ACA groups, a coronavirus support group, a NAMI support meeting, a She Recovers meeting, a Chemsex meeting, and an illness and recovery support group meeting.

Recent changes in membership, participation levels, and new support media provided via In The Rooms illustrate the remarkable adaptability of people in recovery and recovery support organizations as they respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

People in recovery and communities of recovery will come out of this pandemic stronger than ever—more confident of their resilience, more ecumenical in embracing diverse pathways and styles of recovery, and more globally interconnected. We will mourn our losses, but step into the future more assured of our capacity for survival and service.