‘Recovery Month’ takes on new meaning as addiction recovery takes shape amid pandemic

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 7:47 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Recovery from addictions, mental health disorders--those issues have worsened as a pandemic swept across the country leaving people in isolation or cut off from traditional support channels to preserve public health. The issue is highlighted during Recovery Month in Wisconsin, as proclaimed by Governor Evers, as statistics indicate a rise in substance use since COVID-19 hit in March.

The issue hits home for staff at the Centre for Well-being with locations around central Wisconsin. Both Dr. Dave (who asked us to withhold his last name) and Mike Slavin have histories with alcohol addiction and are in recovery, while also serving as a therapist and a substance abuse counselor with the centre.

“I was really using alcohol as a means to cope with my emotions,” Dave noted as he described a history with drinking dating back to college. “I said, I need to do something. I’m gonna die here.”

Struggles with alcohol for Slavin date back to high school, he says. “I’ve been sober 34 years now...I lost my first family, wife and four kids and all my property, through drinking.” His pivot towards recovery midway through life also prompted his career change from sales into counseling, including a return to school in his 40s that resulted in a longtime career with a residential treatment center in Stevens Point. He retired--only to realize he missed it too much, and joined the Centre.

Both have seen first hand how the pandemic has impacted their clients. “COVID has been really hard on the recovering community,” Slavin said.

The CDC released statistics in August indicating 40% of U.S. adults struggled with mental health or substance use in June during the pandemic. The rate of people considering suicide has also increased when compared to past years. And relapses, while people are more isolated or cut off from their common support systems, have been on the rise. In a local support recovery group, Dr. Dave estimates 30% have relapsed since March. Opioid overdoses have drastically increased in Wisconsin, and calls to the 211 center are on the rise.

“A lot of people were just on their own all the sudden,” Slavin said. While many recovery methods are available, the Centre says guiding principles include self-direction, a focus on strengths, empowerment, meeting of basic needs, hope, optimism, positive self-identity, and giving back.

There’s some signs of hope as people in recovery from addictions adjust to digital routines or distanced in-person methods. People are learning, Dave says, and with a forced reliance on digital methods people are now much more likely to pick up a phone and call. It’s been difficult--but recovery is possible, Slavin says. “That would be my message.”


SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP

Centre for Well-Being (Wausau, Merrill, Rhinelander, Weston): 715-848-5022

Peaceful Solutions Counseling: (715) 675-3458

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

North Central Health Care: (715) 848-4600

Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline: Available 24/7 Call: 211 or 833-944-4673 or Text your zip code to 898211

HOPELINE Text Service: Available 24/7 Text HOPELINE to 741741

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