Addiction staff makes changes to help patients attend meeting

The coronavirus pandemic has added stress to the lives of people across the world. With the added stress, the people battling substance use disorders will need help more than ever.

Doctors, social workers, and staff members with the Department of Psychiatry’s Addiction Division have been doing everything they can to make sure patients can still attend meetings and counseling sessions. In-person and group sessions have been moved to telehealth. Dr. Ken Zoucha, Addiction Division Director, said he’s seeing all his patients via telehealth and so far, it’s going very well.

“People are now aligning their lunch breaks with their appointments,” Dr. Zoucha said. “They head to their cars on their lunch breaks. The good news is that what would have taken four hours can now be done in one. They don’t have to take time off to drive to the clinic, get checked in a little early, and drive back to work. I think a lot of people are grateful for that.”

It’s not only the one-on-one treatment sessions that are continuing, group therapy is also thriving during COVID-19.

“Our numbers have actually increased with the number of people we are treating,” said Erin Bagwell, LICSW, LIMHP. “We’re definitely seeing a need in the community. A lot of people with substance use and mental health issues are struggling with the stress and isolation. I’m very grateful that we can provide these services at this difficult time. All meetings are full.”

Dr. Zoucha said isolation and social distancing mixed with health concerns and economic stress can lead to relapse.

“Stress is a gigantic trigger or que that initiates, expands, and worsens substance use. People are losing their normal coping skills,” said Dr. Zoucha. “People don’t know when they can go back to normal life or when they can go back to meetings or back to work. No one knows when it going to end, and that can lead to relapse.”

The good news, Dr. Zoucha said, is that people are reaching out for help.

“The recovery community has responded in the heroic way it always responds,” said Dr. Zoucha.

While telehealth has a future in addiction treatment, there is still a need for in-person visits. Patients deserve a private space and in some cases patients aren’t comfortable speaking about their addictions with family members nearby. Some patients also don’t have access to needed technology. They may not have high-speed internet or data available on their phone. Dr. Zoucha said the addiction division will do whatever is possible to assist people asking for help.

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