Addiction Therapy at a time of Social Distancing

The corona crisis and the necessary quarantine is challenging for us all. For those battling with addiction, this challenge is particularly harsh. Now is the time for innovation in addiction therapy.

If one had to imagine a nightmarish scenario for those battling with addiction, it would probably be quite similar to the one we are witnessing now: an epidemic of historic proportions forcing us all to stay at home, being confined to small rooms, with little access to outdoors, nature and fresh air and, alas,  close to no ability to physically attend treatment. In addition, as if this claustrophobic experience is not enough, we are all bombarded with constant news updates about the physical danger we all face, as well as an unprecedented financial crisis, all which give rise to anxiety and concern among us all.

For those at risk for developing addiction, and definitely those already battling with addiction, these high levels of anxiety and the associated sense of hopelessness pose a particular threat. Attempts at self-medicating these feelings and symptoms are the breeding ground for the development of all forms of addiction – both to substances as well as behavioral addictions.

Imagine the anguish of a person struggling with pornography addiction, now confined to his room, with nothing but a computer to keep him stimulated. Imagine the challenge faced by an individual suffering from problematic alcohol use, particularly in times of stress, when facing a constant flow of breaking news about a looming recession?.  Imagine an individual suffering from chronic pain and opioid addiction, with little access to treatment and physical rehabilitation, confined with stocks of pills and no outlet for his pain and concerns.

The fact that therapists specializing in mental health and addiction treatment cannot physically meet with their clients during these times forces them to quickly adapt to this new reality: the process of therapy, highly dependent on the personal connections and bonds created by therapist and client, has now been “digitized”. For the first time, treatment and its success depends not only on the therapist’s expertise and personal abilities, but also on the quality of his wifi. Medical consultations, individual psychotherapy and even group treatment, have all had to adapt and rapidly transform, utilizing modern technology to allow access to treatment for multitudes battling with addiction. The most intimate situation, which once depended on physical proximity is now being entirely transformed.

This re-inventing of our field requires us to help others adapt, both clients as well as therapists. At the Israel Center on Addiction we not only currently conduct all our sessions online, we conduct online webinars for therapists and physicians outside of our organization, throughout the country, in order to provide them with the much-required tools to professionally conduct the transition to addiction treatment.

I am, admittedly, an optimist. Even in times such as these, I believe we have the opportunity, if not the obligation, to look for a positive side to the situation. And it is, to say the least, not always easy. Times like these force us to re-think the way we treat individuals  and  dig deep in search of our most innovative sides. These are times to join forces and think of new and better ways to reach our clients at a period in which their suffering is greater than ever. Years from now, we may look back at this period in time as a truly revolutionary chapter.

The writer is the co-founder and academic director of the Israel Center on Addiction (ICA)

About the Author
Professor Shaul Lev-Ran is a psychiatrist, deputy director of Lev HaSharon Medical Center, associate professor of psychiatry at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, and an affiliate scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada. He is a member of the National Council for Mental Health (Israel) and of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT), an international organization of trainers in motivational interviewing. He currently serves as president of the Israeli Society of Addiction Medicine (ILSAM). Lev-Ran completed his M.D. at Tel Aviv University, his residency in psychiatry at the Shalvata Mental Health Center, and his fellowship in addiction psychiatry at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto. He is a graduate of the psychoanalytic psychotherapy program at Tel Aviv University, and has a master’s in health administration from the University of Haifa.
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