More and more of our lives are lived online even in what could be described as ‘normal’ times. Banking, shopping and many aspects of working have all become increasingly digitised but the past year has by necessity seen a complete change in the way we live, work and communicate.
During the pandemic, remote communication extended became the new norm for many. Work, education and even many elements of healthcare moved online as we adapted to the new reality of the accompanying lockdowns.
Problems such as substance abuse and addiction have certainly not gone away in this period and there is plenty of evidence, in fact, that they have become worse.
The realities of lockdown have led to restrictions in many areas, including face to face addiction treatments. This has led to an increase in online rehab recovery programs and remote rehab centres.
But what exactly is an online recovery programme and are they effective?
What is an Online Recovery Program?
An online recovery program or online rehab is a comprehensive treatment program that is designed to be delivered remotely. The exact structure can vary widely but could involve many of the elements that would typically be offered in a traditional face to face rehabilitation centre.
These may include different types of therapy, including group and one to one therapies, interactive lectures and one to one psychotherapy and counselling sessions, with additional resources such as videos and documents also made available.
The courses and programmes are generally designed to be flexible, with many resources accessible at any time, although live sessions will still need to be scheduled. These remote rehab and recovery programmes are also designed to be as accessible as possible, so will often use platforms that are now familiar to a lot of people, such as Zoom, Skype or Facetime.
Programmes can vary not only in format but also in their intensiveness. Some may allow you to ‘dip’ in and out while others require a firmer commitment of time and energy.
Some may offer a holistic approach to recovery, with aspects focusing on general health and well-being, as well as addressing the root causes of your addiction.
Lockdown Remote Rehab – Addiction during the Pandemic
The ongoing pandemic has had an impact on all our lives and there is evidence that it has affected the way many people consume drugs and alcohol.
A special Global Drug Survey (GDS) centred on the impact of coronavirus found that nearly half (48%) of UK respondents said they were drinking more during lockdown than before the start of the outbreak.
44% of people who used cannabis also reported they were using more of the drug. 40% of drinkers said they had increased their drinking due to stress, while 27% cited loneliness and 29% said it was due to depression.
Nearly a third (30%) of drinkers felt their alcohol consumption had a negative impact on their mental health, while nearly half (47%) reported that their physical health had deteriorated.
Interestingly, a recent study from the University of Sheffield found that overall consumption of alcohol had actually fallen, with the rise of drinking at home not quite offsetting the reduction of drinking in pubs and restaurant – during the first lockdown at least.
The report did note, however, that “there is evidence from other studies that heavier drinkers may have increased their consumption during lockdown”. This suggests that those who were already problem drinkers or predisposed to become problem drinkers may have struggled even harder during the pandemic.
When it comes to ‘hard’ drugs the waters are muddied, as international lockdowns have also had an impact on supply chains and availability, but it seems likely that many addictions have worsened over the past year or so.
More recent evidence suggested that highly addictive sleeping pills and anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines, or ‘benzos’ were being increasingly bought online.
It’s a mixed picture but it seems clear that, for many people, the pandemic and its accompanying lockdowns will have been a struggle in terms of substance abuse and addiction.
Alcohol and drug rehab online will have provided a lifeline for many and will continue to do so, even as it seems we are starting to emerge from many lockdown restrictions. It is likely that remote rehab and treatment may continue to play a larger part than it did even when restrictions are lifted entirely.
Does Remote Rehab and Online Treatment actually work?
One of the main benefits provided by traditional rehab is that it takes you away from your everyday life, including the people, places and many of the triggers that are associated with your drinking or drug use. You are placed in a safe environment where you can concentrate on getting clean and staying that way, with professional support around the clock.
Drug and alcohol rehab online programmes obviously cannot put you in a different physical environment. They also lack the benefit of a physically supervised detoxification process, but they do have a number of benefits and seem to be highly effective.
One of the primary benefits reported by many users is the privacy afforded by using an online addiction treatment programme. Physical rehab facilities will always safeguard a patient or client’s privacy but it can be difficult to take weeks away without tongues wagging and people who know you talking.
Taking an online course or attending online rehab allows a great deal of flexibility but can still offer high-quality treatment and content, including one to one virtual sessions with trained counsellors, therapists, psychiatrists and other addiction recovery specialists.
A 2018 Yale study looked at three groups with substance dependency issues. One attended weekly group counselling, another got face to face cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and the third used a specially designed online addiction treatment programme called CBT4CBT.
At the end of the programme more than two thirds (67%) of those receiving the online treatment no longer met the official diagnostic criteria for substance abuse – a far better outcome than the other two groups.
Online recovery programs have already been invaluable for many and it seems likely they will continue to be so moving forward.